By Anne Sweeney and Kim Geiger
7:39 PM CDT, July 1, 2013
Beleaguered Sacred Heart Hospital, whose owner faces federal charges in an alleged kickback and health care fraud scheme, abruptly shut down today.
The Illinois Department of Public Health received a phone call today informing officials that the hospital, 3240 W. Franklin Boulevard, was closing, department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said.
Arnold said the state requires 90-day notification of a hospital closure. She was uncertain what actions or sanctions might be sought, and said staff was dispatched to the hospital immediately to monitor the shutdown and transfer of patients.
"I don’t know how many patients (are at the hospital)," Arnold said. "That is one of the reasons we have someone going out there, to check the whole situation. Our priority is the patients and making sure they are being cared for.”
Sacred Heart owner Edward Novak is at the center of a federal probe that includes alleged kickbacks for patient referrals and a scheme to defraud Medicare and Medicaid. Six others, including five physicians, also are charged.
Among the most explosive charges made by federal investigators in court documents is that Sacred Heart physicians performed unnecessary procedures on patients, including tracheotomies.
The three-year investigation included several cooperating employees as well as secret recordings, including one in which prosecutors say Novak referred to tracheotomies as the hospital’s “biggest moneymaker.”
This afternoon at the hospital, as an ambulance waited to transport the hospital's final patient, workers walked out with their belongings.
"I have no hard feelings for what has happened here," said James Camacho, a lab technician who had worked at Sacred Heart for about 5 years. "If one door closes, another is going to open."
Camacho hadn't always felt so detached from his job. Before news of the fraud charges, the hospital was bustling and he thought he might stay there for good.
"I was really overwhelmed," he said. "I was like, business is really booming here."
By Saturday afternoon, it was clear that something wasn't right. With about a dozen patients left, Camacho said, occupancy was the lowest he'd seen.
The mood inside on Monday was "dry, dead and gloomy," he said.
"There's no spirit at all in there, obviously," he said.
News of the closure rattled neighborhood resident Shirley O'Neal. The hospital has provided a sense of security, she said, because the lights and presence of guards made the distressed neighborhood feel safer.
"There's some sense of security because it's always all lit up," O'Neal said. "Now it's gonna be deserted. I sure hate that."
O'Neal, 62, grew up on the block and recently returned to care for her ailing father.
But even with the hospital down the street from their home, she said she'd never considered taking her dad there because of the hospital's reputation in the neighborhood as a rehab facility. When her dad had a stroke late last year, she took him to Rush University Medical Center instead.
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