Democratic candidates focusing on health care in race for 77th state House seat

The 77th state House District is a diverse region encompassing O'Hare International Airport and parts of Cook and DuPage counties.

But the Democrats seeking to represent the district say one issue that unites the residents is access to health care, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic and after Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park closed in 2019.

Five-term incumbent Kathleen Willis of Addison is trying to fend off a Democratic primary challenge from Norma Hernandez, a Melrose Park resident who serves as a Triton Community College trustee. The winner is expected to face Anthony Airdo, a Melrose Park resident running unopposed in the Republican primary.

Willis and Hernandez each recognize the importance of health care in the district that serves many low-income residents in Addison, Bensenville, Franklin Park, Melrose Park, Wood Dale and other nearby communities.

The former Westlake Hospital is poised to reopen soon under new ownership.

After working with legislative colleagues to reopen the facility, Willis said she has the necessary experience to continue representing her constituents.

"I was on the front line when Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park was closing, trying to prevent that from happening," Willis said. "Making sure that we not only secured the jobs for the people that worked at the hospital but also made sure that we continued to have community health care available to the people that lived there.

"We are happy to say that we were able to have a transformation of that hospital into a new health care facility that is getting online as we speak," she said.

Hernandez believes she's better prepared to represent the district and the changing demographics in its communities.

Her concern over the lack of resources during the peak of the pandemic was a primary reason she chose to run against Willis.

"When we saw the closing of Westlake Hospital, that really kind of shook our community because it happened right before COVID," Hernandez said. "Then COVID hits, and then we have a health desert in the region.

"Areas like Melrose Park and Stone Park were one of the most impacted COVID areas," she said. "And I don't recall getting mask distribution or even a health resource fair to a community that desperately needed aid."

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