Tenet to sell West Suburban Hospital

Friend of Barack Obama is president of company in partnership

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Tenet Healthcare announced it has entered into an agreement to sell West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, along with two other hospitals to a company jointly owned by TWG Partners and Pipeline Health.

The partnership is notable because TWG Partners is founded and run by Dr. Eric Whitaker, a close friend of Barack Obama, according to news reports.

West Suburban Chief Executive Officer Joseph Ottolino in a letter to West Sub's community governing board obtained by Wednesday Journal said that the proposed sale also includes Chicago-based Weiss Memorial Hospital and Melrose Park-based Westlake Hospital, and other operations connected to the two facilities.

TWG is a Chicago-based health care firm and Pipeline is a national hospital operator. Pipeline, which purchased a hospital from Tenet in Dallas earlier this year, will manage the three hospitals, according to Ottolino's statement.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-8th), who has served on West Suburban Medical Center's Governing Board for about over 12 years, confirmed in a telephone interview that the partnership between Pipeline and TWG is a for-profit entity, meaning that the facility will continue paying local real estate taxes.

Tenet, which has been shedding medical facilities in Illinois, recently sold MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn to Loyola Medicine, resulting in a $3.5 million tax loss for the city of Berwyn.

Ford said he spoke with Whitaker recently about the potential sale and has "high expectations from the new ownership."

"We have a new opportunity to deliver the highest quality of health care on the West Side," he said.

Ford said he believes that having Whitaker on board – he has served as executive vice president and associate dean of the University of Chicago Medical Center and is a former director of the Illinois Department of Public Health – is a positive development. 

"I do have a good feeling because I do know Eric Whitaker … does understand Chicago health care," Ford said.

Ford said he told both Whitaker and representatives of Pipeline that West Suburban "needs some stability." Ownership of the hospital has changed hands four times since 1996.

West Suburban Medical Center was an independent non-profit for its first 82 years. It was sold to Loyola University Medical Center in 1996, but returned to independent status three years later when it was sold to Resurrection Health Care. Vanguard purchased the hospital in 2010, and Tenet bought it in 2013.

"We need them to come in ready to work with the community, protect workers' rights and increase their quality of care for their service area," Ford said.

Ottolino stated in his letter to the governing board that "nothing changes in the near term, and we will be focused on ensuring a seamless transition of ownership over the next few months."

Tenet said they expect the transaction to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Ottolino said that "colleagues in good standing will be offered positions to remain at our hospital."

"I remain hopeful about the future of our hospital, and I look forward to discussing this new with you at our next board meeting," Ottolino said in the letter to the local governing board.

Ottolino could not immediately be reached for comment.

Ford said he hopes the transition results in the establishment of a community advisory board.

"I think that's one of the best ways to get started in the community," he said. "I've tried to work with Tenet on that."

Ford said he was "fine with Tenet leaving" and looks forward to working with an owner who wants to be in the community.

He said he's heard "over and over" that the community doesn't feel West Suburban is taking care of patients the best way it should and that patients frequently travel to Elmhurst Hospital's emergency room, even though West Suburban and Loretto Hospital in Austin are closer.

"[Patients] rave about how they can go [to Elmhurst] and there's no real wait time," Ford said.

He said Tenet is "about the bottom line," adding that while hospitals must make a profit, they need to "put people's health care over the bottom line" and that malpractice lawsuits can cost hospitals more in the long run.

Ford did not speak specifically about malpractice lawsuits associated with West Suburban or Tenet, but noted, "Most hospitals have lawsuits, but we want to prevent lawsuits."

"I do believe West Suburban is a good hospital, and we have to make sure we have the best delivery of care," Ford said. "But it's not up to me as a board member to say it's a good hospital, but it's up to the community to be convinced that it's a good hospital."

Board member Cathy Yen, said in an email that the board is "delighted that West Suburban Medical Center is going to start its next chapter under the leadership of TWG and management of Pipeline Health."

Echoing Ford's statement, Yen wrote that TWG's "deep ties" to Chicago give it a "clear understanding of the healthcare landscape in Cook County and Illinois." 

"Their appreciation of challenges, opportunities and patient needs locally will inform future plans in a positive way," Yen wrote. "Acquisition by an independent like TWG tells me that this is not a consolidation play, but rather recognition that there continues to be a role for a well-managed community hospital like West Sub that can deliver outstanding health services in a community setting."

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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