A $131 million plan to build a new hospital in Lindenhurst drew fans and critics to a public hearing Thursday morning.
The backers who addressed an Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board panel at the Lake Villa Township west campus said the proposed facility would improve access to health care services for residents in the northwestern part of Lake County.
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Opponents said Lake County already has too many consistently empty hospital beds and insisted a new hospital isn't needed. Some also said the construction of a new hospital would hurt patient care at existing facilities because it would upset the current balance of services.
About 100 people attended the session. They included state lawmakers, local politicians, doctors, medical-company executives and area firefighters.
Vista Health System, which operates two hospitals in Waukegan and a medical complex in Lindenhurst, wants to build the 132-bed hospital on its Lindenhurst campus, which is on Grand Avenue at Deep Lake Road.
The plan calls for a five-story building that would house a trauma center, a maternity department and nursery, operating rooms and other features. It would wrap around an existing emergency department that opened last year.
State Sen. Suzi Schmidt, a Lake Villa Republican, was among the people who spoke in favor of the plan Thursday. The area's roads and health care services have not kept pace with population growth, she said.
Residents in that part of the county now must drive 30 minutes or more to Waukegan, Libertyville, McHenry or southern Wisconsin for the nearest hospital care, she said.
"And that's with good traffic, with no road construction and in good weather," Schmidt said.
Other prominent supporters included state Rep. JoAnn Osmond of Antioch, state Sen. Terry Link of Waukegan, Lake County Board member Jim Newton of Lindenhurst and Lake Villa Fire Protection District Chief Frank Slazes.
Slazes was particularly passionate, telling the panel a new hospital could save lives.
"Minutes can mean the difference between life and death," he said.
But the plan had plenty of detractors, too.
They included representatives from Centegra Health System, which operates a hospital in McHenry, and Advocate Health Care, which owns hospitals in Libertyville and near Barrington.
Scott Powder, an Advocate executive, accused Vista officials of not being truthful about the number of open beds at their hospitals.
"Put simply, there is no need for new inpatient beds here," Powder said.
He went on to call the planned hospital a "costly and excessive facility."
Dr. Jennifer DeBruler, who works at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, said her job to provide best patient care would be "compromised" if a new hospital opens. Additionally, the basic services proposed for the Lindenhurst facility are available elsewhere, she said.
Concern also came from the Rev. Eileen Shanley-Roberts, a representative of the Lake County United community group.
She questioned Vista's commitment to its Waukegan hospitals and urged the state board to mandate continued services at those hospitals if it approves the Lindenhurst plan.
The state board has rejected four previous requests from Vista to build a hospital in Lindenhurst, most recently in 2009. The board is expected to consider the proposal Feb. 5.