‘We hope they get things back in order very quickly’: Concerns raised with revocation of Vista East’s Level II Trauma Center designation

  County officials held a press conference Monday about Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan at the Lake County Health Department offices. From left are, Vista board member Rick Harris; Mark Pfister, executive director of the Lake County Health Department; Lake County Coroner Jennifer Banek (at podium) and Lake County Board Chair Sandy Hart. Mick Zawislak/

Local leaders Monday said the revocation of the Level II Trauma Center designation for Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan raises concerns and issues that need to be addressed to ensure continued services for residents in the most populous area of Lake County.

Elected and other officials held a joint press conference at the Lake County Health Department offices in Waukegan calling for changes to meet deficiencies outlined by the Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS) as a result of an investigation by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The federal agency issued a letter to American Healthcare Services, a privately held company based in Glendale, California, which bought Vista East last July.

CMS found Vista East failed to ensure appropriate providers were available and didn’t have an institutional plan or budget, according to Jennifer Banek, Lake County coroner.

Banek, a certified nurse anesthetist who until Jan. 18 cared for patients at Vista, brought a complaint to IDPH that triggered the investigation.

She previously outlined issues in a letter to a Vista board member with “grave concerns” about Vista’s financial stability, which she said could compromise its ability to serve the Waukegan community.

On Monday, she said she was concerned with what seemed be “an alarming increasing exodus in clinicians leaving” Vista, observations by her and others of a shortage of supplies for patient care, and reports of financial obligations to contracted staff and vendors not being met.

IDPH on Friday notified Vista East its Level II Trauma Center designation was being revoked “due to the absence of essential services needed to maintain this designation, including lack of a blood bank, anesthesia, neurology, urology or a full-time trauma coordinator.

Vista “strongly disputes” the revocation of the Level II Trauma Center designation and is appealing, according to a release from the company. It is working with IDPH and hopes the issue will be resolved soon.

The revocation action does not affect other services at the hospital, according to IDPH.

The agency in a statement said it and state government officials have been in communication with Lake County leaders, surrounding hospitals, trauma centers and Emergency Medical Service (EMS) providers to ensure the region will continue to have access to “vital emergency services.”

Besides Waukegan, Vista serves North Chicago, Zion, Winthrop Harbor, Beach Park, Antioch, Lake Villa and Wadsworth.

Vista is pursuing a corrective action plan, said Mark Pfister, Lake County Health Department executive director.

“We hope they get things back in order very quickly,” said Pfister, who recounted how his young daughter’s life was saved years ago at a Vista facility. “This community needs a hospital. We want this hospital to be strong.”

Vista Health System took over a hospital that was not performing and had great financial difficulties but is “fully committed” to providing quality health care, according to the statement.

“Despite the naysayers, Vista Health will not shut its doors and we will be in the community,” the statement said.

A trauma center is a hospital participating in an approved EMS system designated to provide optimal care for trauma patients.

Level I centers provide all essential services in-house, 24 hours a day. Level II centers provide some essential services in-house with others “readily available” at all times.

Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville is the only Level I Trauma Center in Lake County and there are three other Level II centers, all in the southern part of the county.

Vista’s facility was established in 1923 and previously known as Victory Memorial Hospital.

“This hospital has been a lifesaving space for many people for many, many years,” said Lake County Board Chair Sandy Hart.

Banek was lauded for coming forward by some in the audience, which included several Lake County board members and first responders from various communities.

“It’s a private company, our hands are tied,” said Gina Roberts, a board member representing Winthrop Harbor, Zion and portions of Beach Park.

“We’re here to make the community aware of what’s going on.”

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