By Louise Macaraniag
Weiss Memorial Hospital in Uptown is undergoing two major real estate shifts this year, which has drawn the attention and ire of many in the neighborhood.
Pipeline Healthcare has recently sold both Weiss Memorial Hospital and West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park to Resilience Healthcare for $92 million. This is following the $12 million sale of the hospital’s parking lot to Lincoln Property Company last year. Lincoln Property’s plan for the lot is to build a 12-story luxury apartment complex.
“I am so worried about Weiss Hospital,” said Kathy Powers, a longtime North Side resident and organizer for Northside Action for Justice. “What’s going to happen if Weiss closes? It’s written in the cards that is what’s going to happen.
“The expansion area that Pipeline sold off because that’s what hedge funders do, they sell off the quickest thing they can sell and then they leave. I don’t think Resilience is any different.”
Powers isn’t the only one worried about Weiss. Community members, as well as the patients and hospital faculty, have shared several concerns over the recent transaction between Pipeline Health and Resilience Healthcare.
“I think that the very basic concern that we all have is that the hospital property is just gonna be flipped like a house,” said Julie Cottle, a community member and organizer for the Campaign to Stop Luxury Development.
Cottle spoke about a pattern of hospital closures throughout the Chicagoland area, specifically hospitals that primarily serve low-income patients like Weiss Hospital. In the last 20 years, nearly one in four Cook County hospitals have closed, and eight have been in Chicago.
Weiss Hospital’s current owner, Pipeline Health, has struggled to maintain operations in one of their other facilities, leading to the closure of Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park. Westlake Hospital filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy after Pipeline Health had promised to keep the hospital open.
After Westlake closed in 2019, court filings later revealed that Pipeline never intended to keep the hospital open.
A statement regarding Westlake released on April 11, 2019 by the Service Employees International Union-Health Care Illinois-Indiana read: “Instead of desiring to improve the health and well-being of the community, Pipeline seems only interested in pursuing financial gain through the acquisition.”
Despite community concerns over the potential change in ownership of the hospital, Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward) wrote in his newsletter published on March 10, “This ownership transition serves as further proof that Weiss Hospital is here to stay, and this additional investment ensures that the hospital will have the needed resources to continue expanding its offerings, services, and future jobs for our community.”
Resilience Healthcare’s Background
Another question community members have raised is about the background of the potential new owners.
“We’re concerned about who these people actually are,” Cottle said, specifically discussing Resilience Healthcare CEO Manoj Prasad and his partner, CEO of Ramco Healthcare Holdings, Reddy Rathnaker Patlola.
In an April 8 public hearing regarding the exemption application for the hospital’s change of ownership, Angela Clay from Northside Action For Justice read a letter written by the Campaign to Stop Luxury Development at Weiss Hospital.
“The professional and financial background of the buyers is still not clear,” Clay said, questioning whether the buyers are “fit, willing and able to provide a proper standard of healthcare service for the community.”
The letter was cosigned by Northside Action for Justice, Chicago Union of the Homeless, Asian, Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago, Axis Lab, Lakeside Area Neighbors Association, and SEIU-HCII. It was written collectively by a campaign called Stop Luxury Development at Weiss Hospital.
StoryMap: Cook County hospital closures, 2008-2019
The full letter had a comprehensive list of questions for the applicants regarding their full academic, professional, and financial background. It also included questions regarding the methodology used to determine the purchase price, plans for improvements, and about the promised $12 million reinvestment into the hospital.
“There just seems to be a lot of gaps in the application process, aside from their credentials,” Cottle said. “The parking lot deal has not yet gone through, but Pipeline says it’s giving Resilience $12 million, but there is no $12 million in cash; it was given as a credit on the purchase price, and we haven’t seen loan agreements for the purchase.
“Our position is that Pipeline should give back that property to Resilience, if the sale goes through because that property is expansion land. It’s land that has been used in the past for COVID-related operations, and moving forward, that should always be there as a way for hospital expansion.”
Weiss Parking Lot’s Redevelopment Plan
The approval of the parking lot sale has not been finalized, and the community has continued to fight in order to stop this from happening. The campaign to Stop Luxury Development at Weiss Hospital started last year to stop the approval of the lot’s sale to Lincoln Property. The group’s primary concern for the redevelopment plan is the anticipated rise in gentrification that comes with it.
Within the 12-story luxury apartment complex Lincoln Property plans to build on the lot, there will be 306 market-rate units and only eight affordable units. This development further decreases access to affordable housing, leading to the displacement of low-income communities.
According to the most recent data on Uptown, 84 percent of households earning less than $20,000 are considered “cost-burdened” by their housing situation. 69 percent of those earning $20,000-$49,000 are also similarly cost-burdened, and only 5 percent of those earning $75,000 or more are cost-burdened.
Dr. Janet Smith, a former UIC professor in Urban Planning and Public Policy, highlighted that Lincoln Property’s redevelopment plan demonstrates the disproportionate amount of affordable and luxury housing being built in Uptown.
“To get a few units of affordable housing, we have to get a lot more units of expensive housing,” Smith said at a public hearing last December, “We often refer to [this] as chasing the problem rather than solving it.”
The Community’s Next Steps
The community groups say their goal is to protect Weiss Memorial Hospital and ensure quality and affordable care for Uptown residents.
Cottle said that the campaign has a multi-pronged, long-term approach to achieve this goal. The steps include making sure community members have a place at the table where their input is prioritized, interrupting any operations that put community members at risk, and maintaining the existing affordable housing in the area.
Most importantly, according to several community organizers, one of the first steps to fixing these problems is to replace Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward). Cappleman, in a last-minute change of plan, acted against his constituents by voting to push the approval of the parking lot sale to City Council.
When asked to comment on the Alderman’s vote, Cappleman’s office responded with a list of questions and answers from Lincoln Property Company’s meeting with Lakeside Area Neighbors Association on March 18, which outlines the process of the purchase and approval.
During this meeting, a community member commented, “To encourage the sale of “public” spaces – like a hospital, a school, playground, non-for-profit buildings and helping developers upzone those spaces seems to speed up the spiral that is happening with gentrification already.”
“I do not encourage or discourage the sale of property because I do not have control over who wants to list their own private property to be sold,” Cappleman responded, despite having the choice to vote against the approval of the redevelopment.
“How this entire process was handled by our current Alderman has just left so much doubt and frustration,” Clay said. “He sold us out.”