Illinois' Attorney General may yet be drawn into the increasingly fractious, unprecedented and complex fight over the future of a west suburban hospital.
The owners of Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park want to close the hospital, citing safety concerns as well as financial considerations, but have been blocked from doing so by court order.
Earlier this week, a Cook County Circuit Court judge stopped moves to close the facility pending a review of a decision by the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board to grant California-based owners, Pipeline Health, an exemption to shutter its doors.
This was the latest in a series of twists and turns since Pipeline announced it wanted to take over the facility last year, in a $70 million deal with Tenet Healthcare that also included West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park and Louis A. Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx
Opponents of the closure, including Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico, have called for Attorney General Kwame Raoul to step in and investigate whether the new owners made false claims ahead of the board granting a change of ownership exemption early this year.
Gov. JB Pritzker stepped into the melee earlier this week, ousting his two appointments to the board after they joined with all other members of the Health Facilities Review Board to approve Pipeline's request to close Westlake.
However, that vote came amid legal actions launched by the village of Melrose Park, through their attorneys from the firm of Edelson P.C., of Chicago, asking the courts to force Pipeline to continue operating the hospital, despite Westlake's contentions it is losing millions of dollars a year doing so.
After a Cook County judge initially sided with Melrose Park, a state appeals court struck down the injunction, saying the village government had no standing to sue. But in doing so, the appellate justices drew out a roadmap to potential success, noting that, while Melrose Park couldn't sue, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office potentially could.
Almost immediately after, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx joined the case alongside Melrose Park against Pipeline. It marked another instance in which Foxx and her office joined the Edelson firm in an action, ostensibly on behalf of the people of the county. Foxx's office also hired Edelson to sue Facebook on behalf of the county over allegations Facebook violated state law in allowing data firm Cambridge Analytics to use Facebook to gather information used by the campaign of President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign.
With the state's attorney now added to the mix, the legal actions continue. Most recently, Foxx and the village of Melrose Park secured the court order blocking Pipeline from closing Westlake, despite the state board's approval.
Title 77 of the Illinois administrative code, related to public health, states, the Health Facilities and Services Review Board "will defer consideration of an application for exemption when the application is the subject of litigation, until all litigation related to the application has been completed.”
Under the Illinois Health Facilities Planning act, projects "eligible for exemptions are the closure of a health care facility, the discontinuation of a category of health care service, and the change of ownership of a health care facility."
While the community can provide input through public comment and hearing, exemptions "are not based on need," the act states.
Lawyers who specialize in health care law who were contacted by the Cook County Record declined to comment, indicating they were wary of becoming publicly involved in what is regarded by some as one of the most complicated hospital closure disputes in the state's history.
The Illinois Hospital Association is also shying from the fray, refusing to comment on the debate, as a spokesman indicated just how multi-layered and sided the issue is.
"We are not commenting," Danny Chun, spokesman for the Illinois Hospital Association, said, in response to questions from the Cook County Record. "This is an incredibly complicated, complex set of circumstances."
Chun said the controversy has drawn in "multiple parties and multiple levels," adding that some people have said the attorney general may get involved.
"It is no easy story, not black and white, one of the most complicated in years," Chun said. "We represent every hospital in the state, (and) cannot get into the position of getting involved in individual situations,"
The circuit court decision earlier this week to block the April 30 7-0 review board vote to grant an exemption to close the facility cheered supporters of the effort to keep the hospital open. They claim Westlake is vital to the community, notably because it has one of the few dedicated addiction and behavioral mental health units in the area.
Pipeline has countered that the hospital is operating at 30 percent capacity. In its application for an exemption, the company said it would continue to operate an outpatient medical building at Westlake, PCC Community Wellness.
It also promised to invest $2.5 million over five years for "enhanced ambulatory and outpatient care in Melrose Park" while merging Westlake’s OB/GYN, medical/surgical, intensive care, outpatient and emergency care patients with nearby West Suburban Hospital.
Jonathan Bilyk contributed to this report.