West Suburban Hospital urged neighbors to become involved in planning for the hospital’s new emergency room expansion during a Tuesday night meeting at the hospital.

Jay Kreuzer, West Sub CEO, said decisions on where the new ER should be built have not yet been made though he pointed to what he described as practical limitations on how the ER must be located in relation to other hospital services.

Kreuzer told residents and community activists that a Neighborhood Advisory Committee would be established to include community concerns.

“We want the community involved in the process and we want their input,” Kreuzer said.

Residents attending the meeting, however, were skeptical that the committee would be nothing more than a diversion while actual plans are considered without them. West Suburban, and its parent company, Resurrection Health Care have been criticized by some organizations on issues related to free medical care for the indigent. Since word was released over the summer that West Sub plans a new ER, immediate neighbors have raised concerns about the expansion.

The hospital has said the current ER is too small and overcrowded. The hospital has said it would spend approximately $10 million for a new ER with increased waiting room space and upgraded medical equipment. Since acquiring West Sub in March 2004, Resurrection has committed $72 million to improving the hospital, said Kreuzer.

Residents expressed fears of increased noise from blaring sirens, potentially hazardous waste and trash, and a reduction in property values as a result of the expansion. Preliminary meetings with architects and hospital officials have already taken place, but no official design plans for any new additions have been made as of yet, said Kreuzer.

He did point out that some suggestions were not practical, such as relocating the ER to a second floor or lower level, or building a separate location outright. Emergency rooms, he said, are mandated to be at ground level and in close proximity to x-ray labs, operating rooms and Intensive Care Units. 

Kreuzer said the hospital understands concerns of residents and wants to work with the neighborhood, which is the purpose of creating the advisory committee. But just what the committee will do and who will sit on the committee was unclear to some residents.

With West Sub bordering Oak Park and Austin, some felt that Austin residents are being left out of the process.

“It seems to me that a neighborhood advisory committee also ought to be a committee that includes patients and people concerned about health care in both Oak Park and Austin, and other areas,” said Bob Vondrasek, executive director of the South Austin Coalition, who along with other members of the Oak Park/Austin Health Alliance (OPAHA) attended Tuesday night’s meeting.

Few, though, disagreed that the hospital is in need of major improvements. The hospital’s ER  serves an average of 50,000 patients a year in a facility original built to serve 40,000. The building, first built in 1914, also was not designed for modern medical equipment. West Suburban Hospital is Oak Park’s largest employer with 1,700 employees.
For more information about the Neighborhood Advisory Committee and upcoming meetings, call Molly Gaus, Marketing and Public Relations manager for West Suburban Hospital at 708/736-6096.

CONTACT tdean@wjinc.com

A more complete report on this story will appear in next week’s Wednesday Journal and Austin Weekly News.