File Photo – Vista Medical Center East | Photo: Woo-Sung Shim / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

The state health department on Monday reinstated the trauma destination for Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan after it was revoked last month due to several deficiencies at the facility.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) sent a memorandum, obtained by Lake and McHenry County Scanner, to EMS medical directors, coordinators and agencies on Monday.

The memo said IDPH had, effective immediately, restored Vista Medical Center East to a Designated Level 2 Trauma Center in the EMS Region 10.

IDPH asked EMS systems to immediately update their trauma destination protocols and notify their EMS agencies.

The change means ambulances can once again transport patients with serious injuries to Vista instead of having to transport them to other hospitals, such as Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital or Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, which are further away.

The change also means patients with serious injuries who walk in to Vista will no longer need to be transferred to other hospitals.

IDPH Public Information Officer Mike Claffey said the department reached an agreement with Vista to restore the designation.

“IDPH’s goal throughout the period since February 2 has been to work with the hospital management to ensure they can provide the essential, life-saving emergency services for the people of Lake County and the surrounding area that are required to hold a trauma center designation,” Claffey said.

Illinois State Senator Adriane Johnson (D-Waukegan) said she was pleased to hear of the trauma designation being restored.

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“This is exciting news after weeks of uncertainty has left our community upset and afraid,” Johnson said.

“Over the past few weeks, my office and I have answered calls, responded to emails and facilitated meetings regarding this issue. We heard from countless individuals wanting answers about Vista’s future. I’m thankful to everyone who came together to facilitate meaningful conversation to reach a solution. This is an important step toward keeping the doors to this health care facility open,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she will be working with the community to make certain Vista continues to progress in the coming weeks. “We must restore the community’s trust in this vital facility.”

Waukegan Mayor Ann Taylor said she was also pleased to learn that Vista earned its trauma center designation back after the IDPH review.

“Waukeganites need and deserve a hospital within our community that they can trust. I will watch the actions of American Healthcare Systems, the owner of Vista Medical Center East, over the coming weeks and months to ensure that they deliver on their promise to improve the hospital for the betterment of our community neighbors,” Taylor said.

“I stand alongside our community and thank each of our residents who have spoken up about the need for high-quality healthcare in Waukegan and the greater Lake County area,” she added.

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In early February, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a letter that the IDPH conducted an on-site investigation at Vista, which included observations, record reviews and interviews.

The state’s investigation, initiated following a complaint, showed the hospital failed to meet the federal requirements for participation as a hospital in the Medicare program.

The letter said Vista Medical Center East failed to ensure appropriate providers are available to provide necessary services for its patients and that the hospital failed to ensure an institutional plan and budget exist.

“This impacted the availability of services and supplies necessary for patient care,” the HHS said in the February letter. The IDPH then revoked the trauma center designation.

In late December, Lake County Coroner Jennifer Banek sent a letter outlining her concerns with Vista Medical Center East to Vista Health System Board Trustee George Bridges.

Vista Health System, previously owned by Quorum Health Corporation, was purchased by American Healthcare Systems, which took over the company in July. It was the third change in ownership in the last five years.

“As the Lake County Coroner, I have dedicated much of my time to investigating preventable deaths. As you likely already appreciate, healthcare access is a social determinant of health that can significantly impact a community’s mortality rate,” Banek said.

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“A precursor to preventable death may often commence with a barrier in access to quality healthcare. Indeed, when we parse through much of our data at the coroner’s office, Waukegan is particularly vulnerable,” Banek added.

In addition to being the county’s coroner, Banek is a certified registered nurse anesthetist who previously administered anesthesia to patients of Vista Medical Center East.

“The Waukegan community desperately needs hospital services; however, I have some grave concerns regarding VMCE’s financial stability, thus compromising its ability to serve the Waukegan community and placing its people at further risk,” Banek said.

The coroner said doctors were leaving the hospital because they had either not been paid in months or the checks they received were returned for insufficient funds.

“Many persons who have noted these circumstances have tried to ameliorate the circumstances with hospital administration, to no avail,” Banek said.

Banek said a patient’s hip surgery was delayed because the prosthesis representative would not come into the hospital to assist with the surgery until they had been compensated.

Banek also said in her letter that basic equipment, such as hospital beds, were often in disrepair with brakes being broken.

The coroner told Lake and McHenry County Scanner in January she believed approximately half of the doctors at Vista Medical Center East left the hospital since it was acquired in July.