Suburban Chicago Hospital Plans to Close Fitness Center in Expansion Plan

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board held a public hearing on the plan on Feb 18 and the state agency is expected to issue a vote by March 18 Photo by Thinkstock
<p>The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board held a public hearing on the plan on Feb. 18, and the state agency is expected to issue a vote by March 18. (Photo by Thinkstock.)</p>

A suburban Chicago hospital system's plan to close its fitness center to make way for a parking lot as part of a proposed $133 million expansion project is facing opposition.

Palos Health & Fitness Center members in Orland Park, Illinois, were notified by letter in January of the planned closure in May, according to the Daily Southtown. The closure affects approximately 4,300 active and inactive center members.

"The difficult decision to close the fitness center is part of our work to identify and prioritize areas and services where we can make the most impact in delivering quality health care to the southwest suburbs," Palos Community Hospital Director of Marketing and Public Relations Lori Mazeika said last month in a statement provided to the Daily Southtown. "We value our role as a member of the community, and that is where our commitment remains."

Palos Community Hospital is working together with Moraine Valley Community College and the Orland Park Sportsplex to help facilitate alternative options for current members, Mazeika told Club Industry.

The closure of the Palos Health & Fitness Center will cause 34 full-time center employees and 100 part-time group exercise instructors to lose their jobs, Power Wellness Director of Operations Jamie Lehotsky told the Daily Southtown. Chicago-based Power Wellness manages Palos Health & Fitness Center, and Lehotsky said it will try to absorb as many employees as it can, according to the Daily Southtown report.

The 78,000-square-foot center opened in November 2001 and has classes, programs and services similar to standard health clubs. The center's medical integration services include health risk assessment, various health analysis and screenings, a therapeutic exercise pool for arthritis and joint rehabilitation, community wellness programs, and Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease and pulmonary rehab programs.

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board (IHFSRB) held a public hearing on the plan on Feb. 18, and the state agency is expected to issue a vote by March 18. Some in the opposition group Save PHFC attended the hearing to speak out against the expansion. Representatives from Life Time Fitness also attended the hearing and offered attendees an opportunity to visit their facility, Mazeika told Club Industry.

The IHFSRB reviewed Palos Community Hospital's application for permit filed in January, which provides additional details on the proposal and makes a case for expansion. Palos Community Hospital described the plan as a "modernization project as an expansion" of its south campus outpatient complex.

The permit shows three components to the project: a four-story, 107,760-square-foot medical office building to include physician offices, and diagnostic and treatment space for a variety of medical specialties; a three-story, 16,000-square-foot building connection to join two existing office buildings to the proposed medical office building; and the 125,000-square-foot parking garage.

"With the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, the health care delivery system is in the midst of a paradigm shift with the transition to value-based reimbursement, consumerism, high deductibles and payer-controlled referrals," Palos Community Hospital wrote in the application for permit.

The application noted that Palos Community Hospital entered into what it called an "innovative affiliation" with Loyola University Medical Center in April 2015, which it said allows both organizations to respond to the challenges of health care reform, share research and expand training and educational opportunities to provide complementary services and avoid costly duplication of services in the future.

"The goal of this affiliation is not to get bigger, it is to get better," Palos Community Hospital wrote in the application.

Center members, health care professionals and politicians have voiced opposition to the plan in letters posted on the IHFSRB's website.

"The Center is an outstanding and well-maintained facility, part of Palos Community Hospital's former mission to provide preventative health and wellness activities for several thousand members, as well as to provide rehabilitation and treatment services for a number of patients with physical disabilities," center member and Chicago-area pediatrician Frank Thorp wrote. "For the latter group, there is no other such hospital-based facility in the area."

Illinois state Rep. Kelly Burke and Illinois state Sen. Bill Cunningham wrote to the IHFSRB this month, urging Palos Community Hospital to reconsider its decision to close the fitness center or include a similar fitness center in the expansion plan. Cunningham initially expressed support for the project at the request from Palos Community Hospital.

"However, since writing and sending the letter it has come to my attention that the existing health and wellness center operated by the Palos site will be demolished to make room for the newly proposed office building and parking lot," Cunningham wrote in a follow-up letter to the IHFSRB. "Regrettably, this important information was not presented to me in the initial request for a letter of support."

Orland Township Supervisor Paul O'Grady also urged Palos Community Hospital to reconsider.

"Respectfully, Palos Community Hospital is a non-profit corporation operating in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Facilities, and there is an expectation that it consider its obligations to the local community to a greater degree than a for-profit hospital might," O'Grady wrote in a Feb. 3 letter to Timothy Brosnan, Palos Community Hospital vice president of planning and community relations.

Palos Community Hospital explored two alternatives before it selected the current plan under review, according to the application.

In one option, Palos Community Hospital considered building a medical office building on its main campus in Palos Heights. That plan was rejected because Palos' main service area is centered in Orland Park. Palos Hospital's affiliation with Loyola was also cited, with Loyola projecting the placement of 25 full-time equivalent physicians in multiple specialties at the south campus due to "demonstrated market need." The mix of academic and community-based physicians allows both systems to provide care at lower cost to patients and payers through integration that will reduce duplicative treatments and testing, Palos Community Hospital explained in the application.

The hospital also considered building the medical office building at another place in the area, but that option was rejected under grounds that it would result in unnecessary and costly duplication of services.

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