Provident Hospital of Cook County plans to drastically reduce its emergency services starting Saturday when it will no longer accept ambulance runs.
CHICAGO (AP) — Provident Hospital of Cook County plans to drastically reduce its emergency services starting Saturday when it will no longer accept ambulance runs. The move, confirmed by county officials Wednesday to The Associated Press, will strain emergency departments on Chicago’s impoverished South Side, where hospital closures and a shortage of primary care already leave patients with fewer choices. The news drew alarm from officials at University of Chicago Medical Center. Officials there said they expect eight to 10 more ambulances daily — as much as a 50 percent bump — and increased wait times for some urgent patients. University of Chicago Medical Center turns away ambulances more than any other emergency department in the state and has been struggling to address its crowding issues. UCMC learned the timing of the Provident plan last week, said Dr. Richard Baron, the medical center’s dean for clinical practice. "There was no planning at all for patients on the South Side of Chicago to have appropriate alternatives," Baron said. "The University of Chicago understands the budgetary pressures we are all under, but we are deeply concerned about the effect of this on health and patient safety across the South Side." Since 1986, six South Side hospitals have closed, building pressure on the remaining institutions to serve low-income and uninsured patients. Provident has informed the Illinois Department of Public Health of its intent to drop to the lowest level of emergency services. The Chicago Fire Department also has been informed. Provident’s ER staff will continue to see walk-in patients. Cook County Health and Hospitals System spokesman Lucio Guerrero said the change is part of a strategic plan to reduce costly inpatient services at Provident to make room for more outpatient care. The health system has been ordered to cut 21 percent of its budget by the county. "Because of the low number of patients that come to us by ambulance, they will be able to be absorbed by area hospitals," Guerrero said. About 3,800 of the hospital’s 40,000 annual ER patients arrive via ambulance, Guerrero said. The county system’s strategic plan "hinges on building a robust outpatient structure, which includes expanding services at Provident and Oak Forest (Hospital) in an effort to see more patients," Guerrero said. "In all, with these changes, we will be able to serve significantly more patients at Provident and Oak Forest." Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.