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Closure of Portage Park Hospital Would Make Area a 'Health Care Desert'

By Heather Cherone | October 14, 2013 6:59am
 Officials at Our Lady of the Resurrection are considering closing the Portage Park hospital, but opponents said that would turn Portage Park into a "health care desert."
Officials at Our Lady of the Resurrection are considering closing the Portage Park hospital, but opponents said that would turn Portage Park into a "health care desert."
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DNAInfo/Heather Cherone

PORTAGE PARK — Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center may be forced to close because of unsustainable losses caused by the high number of uninsured residents who use the Portage Park hospital.

But those opposed to the proposed closure — including Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th) and many of the doctors and nurses who work there — said the Far Northwest Side would be devastated if the hospital is shuttered.

“Our Lady of the Resurrection’s closure would turn Portage Park into a health care desert,” said Dr. David Fishman, director of the Cardiology Department.

The 269-bed hospital expects to lose $20.7 million this year and another $5.7 million next year, according to a memo sent to the nearly 900 employees who work at the medical center at 5645 W. Addison St. by hospital CEO John Baird.

Hospital spokeswoman Angela Benander said hospital officials were “studying a number of options to ensure the long-term sustainability of our health care ministry and better serve our community of northwest Chicago.”

Baird declined to comment on the proposed closure, as did Sandra Bruce, the CEO of Presence Health, the largest Catholic health care system in Illinois.

In the memo, Baird called the hospital's losses unsustainable, and proposed ending in-patient services at the hospital while keeping the emergency room open. State law requires hospitals with emergency rooms to have at least 100 beds.

Patients who need to be admitted to the hospital would be transferred to Resurrection Medical Center, 7435 W. Talcott Ave., five miles away, according to hospital officials.

That would force patients to travel 1½ times to three times longer to get to a hospital, Fishman said.

Eighty percent of the hospital's patients were covered by Medicare or Medicaid, or paid out of pocket, according to the hospital’s 2011 report to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The board of directors of Presence Health, which operates 12 Catholic hospitals in the Chicago area including Our Lady of the Resurrection, had been expected to make a decision on whether to close the hospital at its meeting this month.

But Cullerton said the hospital administrators agreed to postpone that decision for at least a month at his request and pledged to meet with a group of employees who have launched an online petition and begun lobbying elected officials in an effort to block the closure.

“What are those people going to do?” Cullerton said. “It is a long trip to Harlem and Talcott [avenues], especially by bus.”

Cullerton, whose wife used to work at the hospital and whose daughter was born there, said the hospital’s closure would be a terrible loss for the entire Far Northwest Side.

“It will cause havoc,” Cullerton said. “They have some of the most dedicated employees.”

Cullerton, who met with hospital leaders last week, said Our Lady of the Resurrection officials told him the hospital had lost between $7 million and $10 million annually for the last five to six years. He joined employees in questioning whether the hospital leaders are inflating its deficit to $20.7 million.

“I just wonder about that big jump,” Cullerton said.

Every year, more than 47,000 people visit Our Lady of the Resurrection’s emergency room, and about 9,000 people are hospitalized there, and 3,600 patients undergo surgery at the hospital, which has been open since 1955, according to data provided by Fishman.

Employee morale has taken a hit with talk of the closure, the online petition says.

Cullerton said he was working with state officials to block the closure.

Fishman, who is the immediate past president of the medical staff and has worked at the hospital for 35 years, said the hospital’s physicians were appalled by the proposal.

“We are ready to go to war,” Fishman said. “We are not going to allow them to slice and dice the hospital up.”

The hospital’s Latino and Polish patients will be hit hardest, Fishman said.

“It will have a devastating impact on a community that is barely being adequately served now,” Fishman said.