This week, I interviewed Sylvia Williams, nurse director at West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park. The longtime Austin resident spoke about what inspired her to become a nurse, the importance of community hospitals and how West Siders can help keep West Suburban honest.

On her start in nursing

I wanted to be a nurse, because I grew up watching “Julia,” which starred Diahann Carroll who played one of the first Black nurses broadcast on TV. In order for me to know whether I really wanted to be a nurse, I said I better get a job as a nursing assistant, to make sure I can stand the sight of blood and needles and those kinds of things.

I began my career at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood as a nursing assistant, with a primary focus on oncology. But I ended up having a lot of departments and my dad got sick. I had him enter West Suburban. We had never really heard about the hospital. I grew up on the West Side in the 1960s. I had no affiliation with West Suburban. But I brought him here as a patient in 2004 and noticed that it was a family medicine environment that didn’t have a whole lot of layers.

Sometimes, when you go into academic medical centers, there’s a lot of breakdown in communication and other things. At West Suburban, I was in communication with his surgeon, social workers, primary care doctors, etc.

On landing at West Suburban

I applied here in 2007. Since then, our hospital has been through various acquisitions — from Resurrection to Vanguard to Tenet and now Pipeline Health. We’ve always been a staple in Austin, but I think West Suburban has been one of those best kept secrets.

We have a number of programs I don’t think people are fully aware of. We’re not in the news all the time, but we do great things. Our emergency department sees about 40,000 patients a year, about as many as Mt. Sinai in North Lawndale. So, we’re very busy, but sometimes our patients use the emergency department as their primary care clinic. They don’t necessarily have primary care physicians. We want them to use our PCC clinic on the first floor.

I’m anxious to have Pipeline establish more primary care centers in the community. The ER is not really outfitted for people to use as a clinic, but sometimes that’s the only source of healthcare for many of our patients.

On her hope for more funding

Last month, Gov. Pritzker hosted a press conference here where the Illinois Black Caucus announced the passage of one of their bills that would allocate more funding to safety net hospitals like West Suburban. I’m very anxious to see how that pans out. We’re now waiting on how they want to disseminate those funds to hospitals in underserved communities.

We also need funding for really robust clinics in the community, so that our residents can have access to care that’s directly affiliated with primary care physicians.

On how residents can help keep West Suburban honest

We’re going to resume our Patient Family Advisory Council. I’m a liaison for that. Now that Covid cases are going down in the city, we want to resume that Council, in which patients and families here at the hospital can tell us what we can do better and what work still needs to be done.

The Council is open to any previous patients and families out there who want to participate. They should have either had care at the hospital in the past or didn’t have care due to problems getting access. We want people who can not only tell us the negative, but help us come up with solutions. 

Anyone interested in joining the Council can contact me at (708) 763-1380 or email me at