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State Intervention Threatens Vista Hospital’s Emergency Room Survival

Waukegan inhabitants and local healthcare providers may be pondering when the decline of Vista Medical Center East began. How did a once-reputable hospital deteriorate into a mere shadow of its former self?

The issues may have arisen years ago when Victory Memorial Hospital lost its local governance and was successively acquired by out-of-state entities, with three changes in ownership within the last five years. Another possible turning point could have been when state health authorities rejected Victory’s proposal to establish a second hospital in western Lake County.

The situation appears dire for those relying on immediate medical assistance within their vicinity. The recent withdrawal of the hospital’s trauma center designation by state officials due to purported deficiencies in essential services for emergency room staffing raises concerns. This development particularly affects the less affluent and underserved residents in the northeastern part of the county who often seek walk-in emergency care.

In the past, Waukegan boasted two efficiently operated hospitals, Victory and St. Therese located at Washington Street and Keller Avenue. While Victory has transformed into Vista, the largely unused St. Therese has been integrated into the Vista network and renamed Vista Medical Center West.

Victory’s history traces back to 1891 when local residents, primarily residing along the Lake Michigan shoreline, advocated for a community hospital. Initially established as a six-bed facility at North Avenue and Franklin Street in Waukegan, it later evolved to a larger hospital at the current site in 1923. Despite changing ownerships over the years, Victory Memorial Hospital expanded its services, introducing innovative offerings like the first blood bank in Lake County, senior citizen day care, and chemical dependency programs.

Efforts were made by Victory and Vista officials to collaborate with west Lake County fire departments for trauma assistance and to construct a hospital in the area to enhance emergency services. However, these initiatives faced obstacles from state authorities who opposed the establishment of such a facility despite support from local paramedics.

On the other hand, St. Therese, which once housed the county’s first state-designated trauma center, faced a decline due to mismanagement decisions, including the cancellation of a sale to Humana Health by the Chicago Archdiocese.

Following the revocation of Vista’s Level II trauma center license by the Illinois Department of Public Health, residents of Waukegan, North Chicago, Beach Park, Zion, and Winthrop Harbor are now deprived of nearby emergency care. The absence of a full-time trauma coordinator, a blood bank, and various medical specialists on duty led to this regulatory action.

While American Healthcare Systems, the current owner of Vista East, refuted the state’s claims and is appealing the license revocation, concerns regarding delayed payments to healthcare providers and staff attrition have surfaced.

The repercussions of Vista’s predicament are felt across neighboring emergency rooms, including Advocate Condell Medical Center, Aurora Health, Northwestern/Lake Forest Hospital, and Endeavor Highland Park Hospital, which are already strained with high patient volumes. This situation poses challenges for timely emergency responses and transportation of patients from shoreline communities to distant trauma centers.

The abrupt closure of Vista’s trauma center underscores the urgent need for a resolution to sustain accessible emergency medical services within the community. Stakeholders are urged to address the hospital’s financial instability promptly to ensure its continued operation as a vital component of Lake County’s healthcare infrastructure.

In conclusion, the restoration of Vista Medical Center East’s functionality necessitates immediate financial support and managerial intervention to safeguard the well-being of the local population in need of critical medical care.

Charles Selle, a former journalist and editor at News-Sun, shares his insights on this pressing healthcare issue.