West Suburban Medical Center’s bid to build a new emergency department passed through the first stages of a hearing before the Village of Oak Park Plan Commission on Saturday Aug. 17, without major dissent from neighbors.

However, one resident said he felt “misled” by something he had learned the Thursday before -that the capacity of the existing ER had been increased by a 1994 renovation. Earlier the hospital had said the existing facility was built to serve 30,000 patients, however, the renovation increased the capacity to 44,000.

“I was stunned by this,” said Joe Steffen, a resident of the 200 block of North Taylor Avenue. “All along the hospital has been saying they have had an open process, but now I feel misled.”

Steffen attended all of the Neighborhood Advisory Committee meetings and one of the two general public meetings to discuss plans for a new ER, to be built as an addition to the existing hospital at 3 Erie Court and Austin Boulevard.

Had he realized the hospital had a greater capacity, “I would have pushed them into just expanding the current emergency department,” he said.

Steffen said he was tipped off by comments made by Dr. Roy Horras, head of the emergency department, at the Plan Commission hearing. A call returned from the hospital’s law firm hired to help guide it through a multi-step village approval process confirmed that the existing facility has 22 treatment bays, a fact that a West Suburban spokeswoman confirmed to Wednesday Journal, which first broke the story.

The hospital has said on multiple occasions that each treatment bay can serve approximately 2,000 patients each year.

However, Molly Gaus, West Sub spokeswoman, said more than just improving capacity, “We’re asking to build a better facility.”

The existing facility isn’t large enough to handle current medical technology, she said. The proposed expansion will add storage space, make for larger treatment bays so family members can join patients, will have on-site lab and imaging capabilities, and a waiting room that’s twice the size of the existing one.

As for the question of misleading numbers, Gaus pointed to news reports that put the existing capacity for annual visits at 40,000, a figure that the hospital has exceeded in actual patient visits for at least three years.

“All along we’ve been saying we’ve been treating more than 50,000 patients per year,” Gaus said.

At the hearing, Horras told the Plan Commission that “a modern ED is critical to any medical center these days,” as 80 percent of admissions come through the emergency department.

The hearing will resume Sept. 21 with the hospital rebutting any testimony given by those opposed to the project. The hospital has asked for land it owns to the southwest of its campus to be rezoned for hospital use, and for the Village of Oak Park’s vacation of a portion of Humphrey Avenue.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com