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New hospital wows visitors

Cook County's $623 million site holds open house

By Mickey Ciokajlo

Tribune staff reporter

Published December 9, 2002

Watching from the 12th floor window of her West Side high-rise, Ernestine Luckett has kept track as a new public hospital was built to replace the one where she was born 77 years ago.

On Sunday, she got a peek inside along with 1,200 other visitors.

"It's fantastic," Luckett said. "It's beautiful compared to the other one."

The other one is right next door, the dingy, 88-year-old Cook County Hospital, which will stop accepting patients Thursday morning as the transition into the new John Stroger Hospital begins.

Luckett and the other visitors received a close look at the new eight-story hospital during an open house.

Members of community groups and churches as well as employees and former employees were already lining up before the tours started at 11 a.m.

"You know why?" said Ruth Rothstein, director of the county's Health Bureau, which runs the hospital. "Because this hospital belongs to them."

Costing at least $623 million, the 464-bed Stroger Hospital is named after the current County Board president, who long pushed for its construction. It is one of Chicago's most expensive public works projects.

While Cook County Hospital is fabled, its dimly lit halls and unpleasant smells evoke decades in the past, when it made history for having the world's first blood bank.

County staffers like to say the new hospital's clean, well-lit look and cutting-edge medical equipment are a move straight from the 19th Century into the 21st.

For example, newborns will wear ankle bracelets that will trigger an alarm and shut down elevator access if they are moved without permission.

Nurses will access patients' drugs from locked, electronically controlled devices that will dispense proper daily dosages.

But basic amenities such as air conditioning are among the most anticipated changes.

Patients shared wards at County, but every room in Stroger Hospital will have only one or two beds. Patients no longer will have to walk down the hall to use a restroom, and the rooms will include telephones and televisions. "I'm very excited. I've been here 30 years and I never thought I'd see this moment," said Dr. Suma Pyati, chairwoman of the neonatology department. "Right now, my heart rate is 200."

Officials will gather Wednesday morning in the lobby of Stroger Hospital for a ribbon-cutting.

At 7 a.m. Thursday, doctors and nurses will begin transferring an estimated 350 to 400 patients from the old hospital. The sickest patients will make the half-block trip by ambulance.

Officials hope to have the final patient cleared through the old emergency room by mid-afternoon Thursday. By then, the cries of newborns could be heard in Stroger Hospital.

"We expect to have our first delivery at 7:01" Thursday morning, said a smiling Dr. Elwyn Grimes, chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department.

Yet amid the fanfare, potential troubles percolate.

Nurses at County who have worked without a contract for more than a year are threatening a strike. And the new hospital already faces a shortage of general medical-surgical beds, so the county is transferring less seriously ill patients to its two other hospitals, Provident and Oak Forest.

In addition, the Health Bureau has struggled to keep the hospital's budget down amid rising personnel and pharmaceutical costs.

Despite promises that the new hospital would save taxpayers money through efficiencies, the bureau's 2003 budget of $429 million is its highest ever. County officials say the cost would have been ever higher without the new facility.

Phyllis Porter, 78, wasn't worried about the soaring expense on Sunday. Porter, who lives on the West Side, had three operations at County Hospital and joked that perhaps she could stand another illness.

"All I got to do is get sick and they can roll me in here," said Porter, who gave birth to her daughter at County. "

Meanwhile, as awed visitors snaked through empty Stroger Hospital, it was business as usual at the old hospital, where patients waited in a line for a half-hour to get prescriptions filled.

Some doubted the lines would change at the new and improved version.

"Fancy, schmantzy. That don't have anything to do with health care," said Orpheus Davis, 40, of the West Side. "If you go to a public place, you have to wait."

Copyright © 2002, Chicago Tribune


173 Posts

I was born at Cook County Hospital 26 years ago. I remember visiting some one there years ago, it was such an old, dingy place. The new "Fancy schmancy" hospital may not have anything to do with health care but I think I would feel more comfortable in a newer, cleaner, less smelly hospital.


SharonH, RN

2,144 Posts

Specializes in Med/Surg, Geriatrics.

Wow, that's great. I wish they could do the same for Grady Hospital here in Atlanta. They need to raze the place and start all over again.

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