Cook County has been shutting down Oak Forest Hospital for months now, peeling away services as it prepares to turn the building at 159th Street and Cicero Avenue into an outpatient facility.
All county officials needed was the approval of the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board.
June 1 would be the fateful day.
Sick, needy people now being cared for at the hospital and their families were earnest in their opposition. A south suburban pastor even staged a hunger strike in front of the building.
Last week, one man from downstate Urbana thwarted the county's plan — 63-year-old Ronald Eaker, founder of the Consumers’ Health Care Task Force in Champaign County, a former United Methodist minister, a former nursing home administrator and a member of the Health Facilities and Services Review Board.
His lone opposition vote stopped the county's plan in its tracks.
"It is a nutshell of what’s wrong with health care in America,” Eaker said of the plan, adding that he didn't trust Cook County to follow through on its promises of help for the south suburban folks who now rely on Oak Forest Hospital.
Who else sticks up for the little guy?
In recent weeks, Southtown columnist Phil Kadner has steadfastly given a voice to those who often go unheard by powerful decision makers. In a series of columns, he's laid out what's at stake in the battle to close Oak Forest Hospital and what this means to the Southland.
What County Hospital Means to the Poor: “People are sick now. We need to take care of them now," says Carl Wolf, executive director of Respond Now, a social service agency that helps the Southland's needy.
A One-Vote ‘Miracle’ Keeps Hospital Open: "Cook County has gutted patient care at Oak Forest Hospital, writes Kadner. "The real miracle would be if officials now move to improve health care there."
Patient Places Her Life Over the Big Picture: “Oak Forest Hospital saved my life,” says Colette Quinones. “The people there saved my husband’s life. People in the south suburbs who don’t have health insurance need Oak Forest Hospital to stay open.”
County Hospital Officials Still Short on Answers: Phil suggested moving county health administrators to Oak Forest Hospital, a sprawling campus of 40 buildings. "I figured that county hospital officials would jump at the chance ... thereby saving millions for patient care," Phil writes. "Instead Dr. Terry Mason, the interim chief operating officer of the county health care system, and Randall Mark, director of intergovernmental affairs and policy for the system, just laughed."
He Tried to Save Hospital But ‘It’s Time to Give Up’: “They’ve already told half the nurses here that they’re going to be gone before the next state hearing," says Glenn Wise, a quadriplegic who says the facility is being taken apart around him. County officials were recently asked about a $25,000 pay raise for Oak Forest Hospital's administrator. They couldn't explain the raise.
When you're sick and poor, no one wants to listen to you. Phil Kadner will.