MELROSE PARK, Ill. — A judge found the new owners of Westlake Hospital in contempt of court Tuesday, ordering them to restore full functionality by Thursday or face a fine of $200,000 a day.
California-based Pipeline Health is seeking to close the hospital, but on April 9 a judge granted a temporary restraining order mandating they keep it open until May 1. During that time, the hospital was not allowed to stop medical treatment or terminate employees, and was supposed to maintain adequate staffing, facilities and supply levels.
The Village of Melrose Park took Pipeline back to court in an emergency hearing Tuesday, saying they violated the order by suspending services and turning away patients. At issue: when the judge's restraining order was supposed to take effect.
Pipeline argues a temporary suspension of services kicked in at Westlake the morning of April 9, and the court decision didn’t happen until 4:30 p.m. The company contends staffing levels are so inadequate at Westlake they needed to suspend services in order to combat a deterioration of care that’s only going to get worse.
Lawyers for the village of Melrose Park argued there was no start time to the order, and the temporary suspension was unnecessary in the first place. They claim Pipeline has been dishonest from the start, failing to honor a commitment to keep Westlake open for two years.
A judge sided with the village on Tuesday, finding Pipeline in contempt of court and mandating they admit patients to all departments except bariatrics by Thursday at 9 a.m., or face fines of $200,000 a day. The restraining order will remain in place through May 1, when another hearing will determine if a preliminary injunction could extend it into the foreseeable future.
"From the outset, when they purchased the hospital and promised to keep it open for at least two years, Eric Whitaker and Pipeline have lied to our community. They thought they could abuse us and we would just roll over. It's clear again today that the people of Melrose Park wont be pushed around," Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico said in a statement.
In a statement, Pipeline spokesperson Natalie Bauer Luce claimed opposition from local politicians including Mayor Serpico, "accelerated the financial slide that threatens the hospital’s ability to safely care for patients.”
“While we respectfully disagree with the judge’s ruling today, we will take every step necessary to protect patients and their safety," Bauer Luce said in the statement.
Many employees, activists and lawmakers at the Daley Center Tuesday said the hospital is literally a lifeline for a large minority community.
The state Health Facilities Services Review Board is set to consider the Westlake situation on the April 30. Community leaders are expected to ask the request for closure be denied, as there are other companies interested in buying the hospital.
Legislation is also moving through to prevent any hospital closures when there’s pending litigation, which is the case with Westlake.