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Illinois Supreme Court Ruling Keeps Westlake Hospital Open For Now

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park appears to be saved again, at least temporarily, after a series of back-and fourth court rulings over the future of the hospital.

Last week, a Cook County judge blocked the hospital's owners, Pipeline Health, from moving forward with plans to close the facility. When the company allegedly violated that order, another judge ordered them to restore nearly all hospital services or face daily fines of $200,000.

On Thursday, an Illinois Appellate Court panel tossed out the first judge's temporary restraining order against Pipeline Health, stating Melrose Park had no standing to seek the TRO.

Hours later, the Illinois Supreme Court put the restraining order back in place, giving Melrose Park an opportunity to file an appeal by Friday afternoon.

"The people of Melrose Park will not allow Pipeline Health to trample on us," said Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico. "Pipeline thinks that the law doesn't apply to them but it does. We'll do everything we can to hold them accountable."

Pipeline completed a purchase of Westlake Hospital in January, but a month later surprised local government officials when they filed an application with the Illinois Health Facilities & Services Board, seeking permission to close the hospital, after earlier pledging to keep the hospital open.

Melrose Park sued Pipeline over the closure plan, leading to the temporary restraining order, which was issued last week.

A day after the order was granted, employees said the company was continuing to lay off employees and reduce services. A second judge held Pipeline in contempt of court, and ordered them to reopen the intensive care unit, inpatient services, obstetrics, and mental health care at Westlake and keep them in place until May 1, when both sides go back to court.

It appeared services at Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park were back to normal on Thursday. Staff at the hospital said they were operating like it's business as usual, and Village of Melrose Park officials said nearly all services at the hospital had been restored.

"I hope that we can continue to stay open, and be able to service Melrose and the surrounding area," labor and delivery nurse Jeanne Lubbers said.

Lubber said the staff's focus has remained on treating their patients throughout the court fight over the future of the hospital.

"We love taking care of our patients, so we want to continue with business as usual, and we have had full staff to take care of them, regardless of what they have said," Lubber said.

On Wednesday, Pipeline offered to transfer control of the hospital to the Village of Melrose Park, but the village called the offer a "publicity stunt," and accused the company of trying to deflect its responsibility to run a hospital they promised to keep open at least two years.

"If Pipeline Health and [vice chair] Eric Whitaker are serious about transferring ownership of Westlake Hospital to Melrose Park, they should send an actual offer with terms for the Village to review, instead of offering the hospital via press release as a publicity stunt," Melrose Park spokesman Andrew Mack stated in an email. "The Mayor of Melrose Park is calling on Pipeline Health and Eric Whitaker to produce their financial records so that the village can do its due diligence."

Pipeline has said its efforts to close Westlake are the result of losses of nearly $2 million a month, because of "declining inpatient stays," citing an average hospital bed occupancy of 30 percent.

The hospital's owners said, before they closed on the purchase, state lawmakers voted down $4 million in funding for Westlake, and Melrose Park's village board voted to withdraw $500,000 for a redevelopment plan.

"Although Westlake's public representatives have seemingly been content to disinvest in Westlake for years, now is their chance to put their money where their mouth is," Pipeline CEO Jim Edwards said in a statement about the offer to hand over the hospital to Melrose Park.

Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico said the village has never claimed it would be able to run a hospital, and that Pipeline promised it "would be able to successfully run the hospital" when it purchased Westlake, despite the hospital's financial problems.

"They were aware of all of the financial conditions associated with Westlake. They were also under an obligation to exercise due diligence in all financial matters prior to the purchase," Serpico said.

Pipeline said, if the village declines its offer, the company expects the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board to approve its application to close Westlake at a hearing on April 30.

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