EDGEWATER — Demolition crews this week began removing loads of old patient medical records from the vacant Edgewater Medical Center, a month after city inspectors criticized the lack of security at the building that was "vacant and open."
Workers wearing respirators and brightly colored vests on Thursday moved wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of the often moldy, water-damaged patient records from the building's interior and into an enclosed dumpster in the center's alley at 5700 N. Ashland Ave.
Antonio Saavedra, a foreman for Omega Demolition, said he and his crew had been hired by the property's bankruptcy custodian to remove the records and deliver them to a recycling center to be shredded.
"Everything goes, as far as I know," he said, adding that the removal of the records, which began Wednesday, could take weeks and fill at least six truck-size dumpsters.
Residents surrounding the center have, for more than a decade, put up with the deteriorating and unsightly former hospital as local officials, a bankruptcy judge and the estate's creditors work out a redevelopment deal.
Last month, residents said the building hadn't been properly maintained and had gone from being an "eyesore to an immediate danger" after vandals entered the building.
City inspectors noted several violations, including the lack of a nighttime security guard and a failure to keep the building in a "safe condition so it does not constitute actual and imminent danger to the public," according to city records.
The records, containing sensitive patient information such as Social Security numbers, have also been a source of contention.
The estate's spokesman, attorney Scott Mendeloff, told the Tribune last year that the estate was requesting court permission to destroy the records.
Mendeloff didn't return requests for comment Thursday.
Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman with the Illinois Department of Health, said medical records would need to be properly maintained for 10 years before federal law would allow them to be destroyed. But the records are older than that since the facility closed in 2001.
Saavedra, the foreman, said he had been instructed to keep the records contained while removing them and transporting them to the shredder.
"We're not supposed to lose any medical records at all," he said.
He also said his company was seeking the contract to eventually demolish the series of buildings. But before that could happen, he said, the records would need to be removed.
Since 2009, Ald. Pat O'Connor (40th) and Waveland Partners, which was hired by the estate's custodian, have worked to market a redevelopment of the property.
O'Connor told dozens of community members in February 2013 that Waveland Partners and his office had decided on an extensive planned development that included an apartment building with street-level retail, 19 single-family homes along Edgewater Avenue and a large park, to be managed by either a neighborhood association or the Chicago Park District.
The one thing missing was a developer to actually pay for the project.
In recent months, several deals with potential developers have been in the works.