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Worries over Vista hospital plan aired

Updated: March 25, 2013 1:20AM

WAUKEGAN — Ongoing concerns about the effect a new Vista Health System hospital in Lindenhurst would have on existing hospitals were aired at the City Council on Tuesday night, when representatives from the social advocacy group Lake County United said the group will not support a new acute-care facility until Vista “can show (that) the project will not have a detrimental impact on the safety-net health care services” in the region.

Marcia Bernstein, a member of the non-profit organization’s steering committee, told the council that Lake County United is urging the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board to withhold support for Vista’s proposed 132-bed facility on Grand Avenue “until the company lives up to public commitments made in conjunction with their reduction of services at St. Therese Hospital in 2007 and shows it has taken meaningful steps to improve access to health care services for the underserved in Waukegan and surrounding communities.”

“When (Vista) asked for state approval to reduce services at St. Therese,” Bernstein said, “the company publicly committed to invest $70 million to advance health care in Waukegan. ... Since then, there has been no accounting for how, or even if, that investment has been made.”

Bernstein’s comments are reflected in a formal letter of opposition filed with the review board, which is scheduled to hear Vista’s Lindenhurst proposal on Feb. 5. Her appearance before the council came as word spread that a staff report to the board found that a Lindenhurst facility does not meet criteria for need, and also that Vista would discontinue 108 medical surgical beds at Vista Medical Center East as part of the project.

Mayor Robert Sabonjian, responding to both Lake County United’s statement and the bed-reduction concept on Wednesday, said he has spoken with Vista president and CEO Barbara Martin about the matter and “I don’t really see that (a new hospital) would affect the quality of medical care in the city of Waukegan.”

“I’m not suspicious, I am not paranoid that they are lying to us,” Sabonjian said, adding that he was told that while patients west of the city might be taken to Lindenhurst for general care, “patients would come from the Lindenhurst facility to Waukegan for speciality care, things like wound care and cardiac (catheterization) services. They’re not taking that anywhere.”

Asked about Lake County United’s claim that Vista hasn’t lived up to its commitments in Waukegan, Sabonjian said “it doesn’t happen overnight.” He reiterated past comments that he feels every corner of the county should have its own hospital.

The general issue of how Waukegan would be impacted by the $131 million Lindenhurst proposal was touched on during a public hearing in November, when Martin told review board staff that, “Vista is solidly committed to Waukegan and Lake County for the long haul.”

On Wednesday, Martin responded to Lake County United’s comments before the council by saying that “Vista Health System can clearly demonstrate that we have met our commitments in every way, making investments which far exceed $70 million to improve health care services in Waukegan.”

“For example, at Vista East we completed a full renovation of our New Family Center with new labor and delivery suites and a brand new (neonatal intensive care unit), and opened a new 24-bed ICU where we treat the most critical patients,” Martin said.

“At Vista West, we expanded the only adult inpatient psychiatry unit in Lake County. Other investments at Vista East include opening an (electrophysiology) cath lab, fully remodeling our same-day surgery center and progressive-care unit, opening a new wound-care center with two hyperbaric chambers, and installing the latest generation of the da Vinci Surgical System for robotic-assisted surgical procedures.

“Vista East is Lake County’s primary safety net hospital and we will continue to serve residents at all our locations,” Martin added.

“This includes Vista Medical Center-Lindenhurst, which would provide much-needed, life-saving hospital care for residents of north central and northwestern Lake County.”

Other organizations filing formal opposition to the Vista proposal with the review board include Advocate Health Care, which operates Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, and Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, which runs Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital.

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