May 10, 2011
A key component of Cook County’s plan to remake its public health system was rejected by a State of Illinois board on May 10, 2011, adding to concerns that the County might have difficulties implementing its FY2011 budget.
At a meeting in Joliet, the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board (Health Facilities Board) rejected by one vote the request to end inpatient and emergency room services at Oak Forest Hospital.
The Cook County Health and Hospitals System wants to turn the Oak Forest site into a regional outpatient center as part of its five-year strategic plan that refocuses resources on outpatient care.
The Health System’s request was rejected despite a 4 to1 vote in favor of the proposal. Under state law, five affirmative votes are required for passage. Currently only six members serve on the nine-member Health Facilities Board and one was absent on May 10.
The May 10 hearing was an appeal of an action by the Health Facilities Board on March 21, 2011. At the March 21 meeting, the Board voted 3 to 2 in favor of the proposal, which constituted a rejection of the plan under state law. The Health Facilities Board issued an “intent to deny” the request, which set the stage for the rehearing on May 10. Cook County officials had expressed hope that Governor Pat Quinn might try to fill the vacancies before the May 10 hearing, but no new members were nominated.
Opponents of the proposal, including union representatives, employees and patients at Oak Forest, told Health Facilities Board members they could not be certain that Cook County would proceed with plans to expand outpatient care and other nearby hospitals would not welcome the uninsured. Cook County officials said the Oak Forest site is currently underutilized, with 213 beds but only 35 to 60 inpatients over the last year. The Health System filed with the Health Facilities Board the FY2011 budget for the proposed Oak Forest regional outpatient center, showing total operating expenses of $38.4 million.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle testified in favor of the proposal at the May 10 hearing along with Health System officials. At a press briefing after the vote, President Preckwinkle and Health System officials declined to comment on how they might respond to the Health Facilities Board’s decision.
After the hearing, President Preckwinkle suggested in a press release that the Health Facilities Board should reconsider the request in time for inpatient services at Oak Forest to be closed as scheduled on June 1, 2011. In a letter to the Health Facilities Board on April 12, 2011, President Preckwinkle stated that a denial of the request could be considered an unfunded state mandate because Cook County does not have a legal obligation to operate a hospital.
As previously discussed on this blog, Cook County plans to reduce financial assistance to the Health System by nearly 33% this year, from $411.5 million in FY2010 to $276.3 million in FY2011. Ending inpatient and emergency room services at Oak Forest was budgeted to save $24.0 million in FY2011.
The Civic Federation is disappointed that the Health Facilities Board rejected Cook County’s request. In a letter to the Board on April 14, 2011, the Civic Federation expressed its support for the plan to discontinue inpatient services at Oak Forest and cautioned that failure to approve the proposal would increase financial stress on the Health System and on Cook County.