In the wake of a state appeals court’s decision appearing to block a bid by the village of Melrose Park to prevent the closure of a hospital in the western suburban community, Cook County’s embattled state’s attorney has joined the fray.
On Friday, April 19, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx filed a motion in Cook County Circuit Court to intervene in Melrose Park’s legal battle with Pipeline Health over the fate of Westlake Hospital.
Foxx’s decision to step in comes just a day after a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court issued an order undoing a Cook County judge’s ruling commanding Pipeline to restore and maintain service levels at the hospital, or risk steep fines of $200,000 per day.
The Illinois Supreme Court just a few hours later reinstated the original restraining order, pending further hearings.
Ari Scharg Edelson P.C.
However, in the appellate ruling, First District Justice Terrence Lavin noted, while the village of Melrose Park lacks the power under Illinois state law to sue to obtain such a restraining order, a county state’s attorney may be able to seek court intervention on behalf of the purported public interest of the people of Illinois.
A day later, Foxx filed to intervene in the case, to effectively replace Melrose Park as the plaintiff in the lawsuit alleging Pipeline committed fraud and violated Illinois law when it moved to close Westlake.
It is unclear who would lead the lawsuit, should Foxx be permitted to intervene in the matter.
Melrose Park is represented in the matter by attorney Ari Scharg and others from the law firm of Edelson P.C., of Chicago.
The Edelson firm is currently working with Foxx and her office in another matter, hired on a contract basis to serve as “special assistant state’s attorneys” to represent the county in a data breach lawsuit against ride-hailing service Uber. According to county records, the Edelson firm is due to receive 25 percent of any settlement or judgment Cook County may receive in the Uber lawsuit.
Scharg and the Edelson firm are also representing Melrose Park and numerous other suburban cities and villages in a collective legal action against various makers and distributors of so-called opioid painkiller pharmaceuticals.
On Twitter Friday, Scharg applauded Foxx’s intervention saying “Game on!” and saying Foxx’s “swift action today saved lives and preserved the community’s access to medical care. The Westlake community is so grateful to SA Foxx, and to all the advocates that banded together to fight this injustice.”
The legal battle began in March, when Melrose Park filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court to block the closure of Westlake Hospital, accusing the company of fraud and of creating a “public nuisance” by moving forward with plans to close the hospital it had acquired only a few weeks earlier in January.
In the complaint, Melrose Park asserted Pipeline violated Illinois law governing hospital operations when it moved to close the hospital shortly after acquiring it along with other suburban hospitals in January.
Melrose Park asserts the hospital is necessary to public health in the region, and particularly for poor and low income residents. The village claims Pipeline promised to keep the hospital open and functioning at prior service levels.
Pipeline, however, asked state regulators for permission to close the hospital, saying the hospital loses money annually. In 2018, Pipeline said Westlake lost nearly $15 million.
Further, Pipeline asserted the hospital’s services can be absorbed by other hospitals in the region, including West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, which Pipeline acquired along with Westlake, and Loyola’s Gottlieb Medical Center, also in Melrose Park.
The Illinois Health Facilities Planning and Review Board is scheduled to take up the Westlake matter at the end of April and could vote on the closure request May 1.
Foxx’s involvement in the case comes as the state’s attorney continues to deal with the fallout from her office’s handling of the prosecution of actor Jussie Smollett, who has been accused by the Chicago Police Department of perpetrating a hoax by staging a hate crime in Chicago in January.
Foxx’s deputy prosecutors shocked many in March when they abruptly dropped charges against Smollett.
Foxx has been beset with calls for her resignation, and for calls for investigations into her office’s handling of the matter. Two petitions have been filed to request a special prosecutor be appointed to reopen the case against Smollett.
Foxx this week said her office was submitting to an investigation of the matter by the Cook County Inspector General. However, on Friday, attorneys for Smollett cited the Inspector General’s involvement as a reason to block the appointment of a special prosecutor.
Meanwhile, several top officials in Foxx’s office abruptly announced their resignations this week, including the office’s chief spokesperson, the office’s ethics officer and the director of the state’s attorney office’s Conviction Integrity Unit.
No explanation was provided for the prominent resignations.