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Vista Health states its case for Lindenhurst hospital

VistHealth Systems CEO BarbarMartspeaks Health Facilities Services Review Board proposed Visthospital site located GrAvenue Deep Lake Road Lindenhurst. The public

Vista Health Systems CEO Barbara Martin speaks to the Health Facilities and Services Review Board on the proposed Vista hospital site located at Grand Avenue and Deep Lake Road in Lindenhurst. The public meeting took place at the Lake Villa Township west campus offices. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Thursday’s public hearing over Vista Health System’s proposed Lindenhurst hospital also found speakers addressing rumors that Vista would scale back operations in Waukegan if the new facility is approved.

Vista CEO Barbara Martin, the public hearing’s first speaker, brought up the issue by saying that “Vista is solidly committed to Waukegan and Lake County for the long haul. While other health systems have stayed away from Waukegan, we have continued to invest in our Waukegan hospitals.”

“I want to assure you that our plans in Lindenhurst in no way signal a change to that commitment,” Martin added. “Rather, we are expanding into Lake County as a whole.”

But Advocate Health Care planner Scott Powder accused Vista of planning to “take 100 beds from Waukegan and put them into Lindenhurst. ... We hope that the (state) sees through this proposal to transfer beds out of Waukegan.”

The matter came up at the Waukegan City Council meeting on Nov. 5, when Mayor Robert Sabonjian said he had received an anonymous letter alleging a Vista plan to “abandon” its two hospitals in the city if the Lindenhurst plan is approved. Sabonjian then read a response letter from Martin, who outlined Vista’s investments at Vista East and West medical centers, and added that “we look forward to the next 100 years (in Waukegan).”

Sabonjian said that “I know from my personal experience that Vista has a commitment to Waukegan, (and) will be here for years and years to come.” He added that he also supports Vista’s Lindenhurst proposal because he feels “it’s only fair” that residents in the west side of the county have closer access to a hospital.

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Updated: January 15, 2013 2:15AM

LAKE VILLA — The latest effort to build a hospital in Lindenhurst began in earnest Thursday as advocates and opponents sounded off on of Vista Health System’s $131 million proposal to build a 132-bed acute care facility at Grand Avenue and Deep Lake Road.

Officials with the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board, which is tentatively scheduled to consider the project at its Feb. 5 meeting, conducted a public hearing that fielded alternating arguments about either the critical need or redundancy that would be provided by a hospital in northwest Lake County.

“If it comes down to it, I’m ready to put a hard hat on and grab a shovel,” said state Rep. JoAnn Osmond, R-Antioch, who recalled that when her husband, Tim, was felled by a fatal heart attack in their home in December 2002, they were “35 minutes away from any local medical facility.”

On the other hand, Capt. Derrick Warner with the Round Lake Fire Protection District illustrated his opposition to the proposal by recalling his own cardiac episode in 2011, saying the Lindenhurst facility “would not offer the kind of specialty services that a patient like me needed when I had my heart attack.”

“It isn’t whether you live close to a hospital that matters in an emergency,” said Warner, who was transported to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville. “A good hospital needs to provide the complete spectrum of speciality services in order to truly serve a patient’s needs. I’m living proof of this. ... Without cardio-vascular surgeons right there at my bedside in the (intensive care unit), I would have certainly died.”

Physicians weighing in among the 40 overall speakers who signed up for testimony included Dr. Rashmikant Patel, a member of the Vista board of trustees, who said “time and again my patients ask me this question: ‘When is the hospital coming to Lindenhurst?’ (With) a new hospital, I will be able to spend more time directly providing care to my patients. That is the reason I chose to practice medicine.”

But Dr. Jennifer Debruler, who practices in the Advocate Condell Medical Center network, said that adding a “basic services” hospital in Lindenhurst would “compromise a functioning health care infrastructure across the county.”

“The truth is there’s a delicate balance of health care in Lake County,” Debruler said. “The six major hospitals don’t have enough patients as it is. ... Adding any unnecessary and excessive hospital would throw off the system, making it more difficult for existing hospitals to attain the critical mass we need to provide the technology and care to keep our patients healthy.”

Vista CEO Barbara Martin said that the need for a Lindenhurst hospital has been demonstrated by her company’s Freestanding Emergency Center that opened in July 2011 on Grand Avenue. According to Martin, the center will see approximately 12,000 visits this year, and more than 100 patients each month are transferred to a hospital.

“The high utilization of the center confirms that the demand for health care in north-central and northwestern Lake County — which others had questioned — is there,” Martin said, adding that other health care systems “are opposing us because of what they fear it will do to their payor mix. Their opposition isn’t about patients.”

Scott Powder, a strategic planner with Advocate Health Care, countered that Vista is looking to build “a costly and excessive new facility” that would exceed the county’s number of patient beds as regulated by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“There was no need for a new hospital four years ago when this proposal was denied (by the state) for the second time, and there’s less need now,” Powder said, accusing Vista of “using phantom beds in its inventory to give the board the perception that it is not exacerbating the bed surplus (as) health care trends move away from inpatient care.”

Others speaking in favor of the proposed hospital included Lindenhurst Trustee Tracy McGrath, Lake Villa Fire Chief Frank Slazes and Zion Fire Chief John Lewis, while opponents included the Rev. Kristopher Hewitt, pastor of Ivanhoe Congregational Church in Mundelein, and Rebecca Standish, a planning analyst with Centegra Health System in McHenry County.

In January 2009, a 2-2 vote by the Health Facilities Planning Board scuttled a $106 million Vista proposal to build a hospital on the same Lindenhurst site, an effort that formally began in March 2007. If the current bid is approved, it would be the first time in more than 40 years that a new hospital has opened in Lake County.

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