Waukegan Mayor Ann Taylor speaks at the Lake County Health Department during a press conference held on February 5, 2024, to discuss the situation involving Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan. | Photo: Woo-Sung Shim / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

The mayor, who says she remains “deeply disturbed and concerned” about Vista Medical Center in Waukegan losing its trauma center designation, said Saturday the hospital has appealed the decision.

“I remain deeply disturbed and concerned that Vista Medical Center East lost its level II trauma center designation from the Illinois Department of Public Health,” Waukegan Mayor Ann Taylor said in a statement.

“It is in the interest of all Waukegan families and our business community to have a well-run hospital with a trauma center,” Taylor said.

Since the last Waukegan City Council meeting, Taylor met with the CEO of Vista and an attorney from American Healthcare Systems, the company that owns Vista.

Taylor said the representatives informed her they are appealing the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) decision regarding the hospital’s trauma center status.

“I certainly hope they succeed,” she said. “It is in the interest of all Waukegan families and businesses to have a trauma center in Waukegan.”

The mayor said her office was not aware that Vista would lose its trauma status until after it happened earlier this month.

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“Neither the City staff nor I was made aware, even my Chief of Staff, who volunteers to serve on the board at Vista along with other committed Waukeganites, such as Elenor Murkey and Pastor Rick Harris, were given any notification prior to the IDPH announcement,” Taylor said.

The state health department revoked the Level 2 trauma center designation on February 2.

The change means ambulances can no longer transport patients with serious injuries to Vista and have to instead transport to other hospitals, such as Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital or Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, which are further away.

Taylor said she learned late last year that the hospital had financial and operational challenges.

“I know that there is rightful community frustration regarding the situation at Vista. Vista is a private company; the City has no role in running the hospital, nor can we tell them what to do,” the mayor said.

Taylor said she is working with elected officials at every level of government and will continue to meet with Vista’s leadership to “see that Vista Medical Center East gets back on the right track.”

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“This means getting its trauma II certification back, improving care, and restoring our community’s trust in the hospital,” she added.

Lake County Coroner Jennifer Banek speaks on February 5, 2024, at the Lake County Health Department during a press conference about the current situation involving Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan. | Photo: Woo-Sung Shim / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

After the trauma designation was revoked earlier this month, a joint press conference with Lake County Coroner Jennifer Banek, Lake County Health Department Director Mark Pfister, Lake County Board Chair Sandy Hart and Vista Health System Trustee Rick Harris was held.

“Access to safe, quality healthcare is a human right that should be available to everyone,” Banek said, adding that in recent months she became “increasingly concerned” about the exodus of clinicians leaving Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan.

Banek also noted there was a shortage of supplies necessary for patient care and reports of the hospital not fulfilling its financial obligations to contracted staff and vendors.

The coroner sent a letter to the Vista board chair, board members and Vista CEO Bianca Defilippi calling for an emergency meeting in late December.

“American Healthcare Systems is responsible for hospital operations and must immediately take action to protect the community and correct these deficiencies. Lives are at stake,” Banek said.

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Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan had its trauma center designation revoked on February 2, 2024, following an investigation by state health officials. | Photo: Woo-Sung Shim / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

Banek said heart attack and stroke patients – among others – may not survive a drive to other hospitals in Lake County. “The burden is on American Healthcare Systems to correct these deficiencies.”

The coroner, a certified registered nurse anesthetist who previously administered anesthesia to patients at Vista as a contractor, said the issue had been worsening and did not happen overnight.

“As clinicians, we communicate to patients the importance of seeking care and, in many instances, positive outcomes are time-dependent, relying on the ability to seek medical assistance quickly. Now, because of AHS’s failure to meet these requirements, patients will need to be transported to other hospital facilities located further away,” Banek said.

Pfister, who spoke after the coroner, said it is “with utmost importance” that the issues that have come forward are being addressed by Vista’s owner, American Healthcare Systems.

The health department director said the hospital will have to submit a corrective action plan to IDPH following its trauma center designation loss.

“We already have enough health inequities in this area. We don’t need more,” Pfister said.