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Oak Forest patients plead to keep care



Oak Forest patients plead to keep care

July 22, 2010
By Maura Possley

By bus and by train, 2 1 / 2 hours had passed before Lee Mayberry arrived at Cook County Stroger Hospital on Chicago's West Side from the south suburbs. It was a taste of what may be to come for Mayberry, who long has relied on the services of the county-run Oak Forest Hospital to treat his rare lung condition.

He doesn't drive, which never posed a problem in his trips to Oak Forest, 15600 Cicero Ave., until now. Next week, Cook County commissioners could vote to implement a long-term plan for the massive county health system that includes Oak Forest, Stroger and Provident hospitals.

The five-year plan aims to stem losses and sustain services in the face of declining revenue. It would eliminate inpatient care and scale back rehabilitation services at Oak Forest and turn it into an expansive outpatient clinic for primary care and specialty services.

But that means Mayberry and approximately 40 other patients who have relied on Oak Forest for inpatient care would have to travel north to Stroger or to a nearby private hospital partnering with the county.

Changes at Oak Forest Hospital and other cuts elsewhere would save an estimated $72 million. Officials also would spend millions on capital projects at county-run clinics.

"We have no way of getting down to Stroger Hospital," said Mayberry, a former pipefitter now on disability and covered by Medicare. "It's not going to be feasible. I came (to Oak Forest) because it's affordable health care."

Mayberry, of Lansing, and other Oak Forest patients on Wednesday lambasted the proposed plan ahead of Tuesday's vote.

Southland Commissioners Deborah Sims (D-Chicago) and Joan Patricia Murphy (D-Crestwood) did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment.

Over the past year, county officials met with the community to debate the future of the health system. The mood often was brimming with frustration.

"Without Oak Forest we have nothing and no resources," said patient Ruby Moran, whose son, daughter and grandson are patients and uninsured or underinsured. "We in the south suburbs really need it."

The county plans to partner with private Southland hospitals to take on displaced Oak Forest patients, but that was met with skepticism.

"Usually they give you triage (care) and tell you to see your private doctor," Moran said. "It's a Band-Aid on a wound that's not a solution."

Joyce Edmond, of Dolton, agreed. She drives her 83-year-old mother to Oak Forest Hospital every four weeks for a two- or three-day stay for blood transfusions. With record unemployment and rising numbers of uninsured, she said, "it's not the time to cut this critical service."

And William McNary, a co-director of Citizen Action/Illinois, which hosted the Wednesday press conference, said there are no set partnerships yet with private hospitals.

Health system spokesman Lucio Guerrero said agreements cannot be created until the plan is approved. However, he said, health system CEO William Foley has met with officials from Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island and Advocate Health Care, parent of South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest and Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.