Blog: Edward CEO Davis may have met her match

No one doubts Edward Hospital CEO Pam Davis' credentials as a tough customer.

In 2003, she wore an FBI wire while meeting with thugs affiliated with the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board so the feds could get dirt on corrupt officials seeking kickbacks from the state's “certificate of need” healthcare construction-approval process.

Former Bear Stearns & Co. Managing Director Nicholas Hurtgen pleaded guilty to a role in the scheme, and the trail of corruption led all the way up to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. While Hurtgen eventually withdrew his plea and all charges against him were quietly dropped, Blagojevich is now serving a 14-year prison term after being convicted on 18 charges.

The Facilities Planning Board was dissolved and replaced with an entity hoped to be harder to buy off. And, for reporters, Davis became a go-to source when seeking a critical voice against the certificate-of-need process. She also went on to become an ABC person of the week and Naperville American Legion Post No. 43's Citizen of the Year.

But I'm not sure Davis knows what she's getting into as part of a proposed merger between her 330-bed institution in Naperville, a far southwest suburb of Chicago, and Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare, anchored by a new 277-bed hospital in Elmhurst, a relatively near western suburb.

Years ago, I was city editor of the Elmhurst Press, the flagship paper of a local newspaper chain, and Elmhurst Memorial Hospital was part of my beat.

The citizens of Elmhurst, who back then sent conservative icon Rep. Henry Hyde to Congress year after year, had a stubborn streak and were used to getting their way when it came to healthcare facility matters.

While the new Elmhurst Memorial is built on a nonresidential property once occupied by a fabled car dealership, the old facility was surrounded by homes and neighbors fought hard against any hint of expansion.

In one instance, neighbors vociferously protested plans for a rooftop helipad. Allowing rooftop landings would eliminate the existing system of emergency transport that involved helicopters landing in a nearby park where waiting ambulances would then take patients the rest of the way to the hospital. Despite hospital officials' pledges that it would only be used a handful of times a month and the related noise would be no louder than a lawnmower, neighbors steadfastly opposed the plan complaining about potential noise and safety concerns.

They successfully blocked the project.

Another time, hospital officials thought they were offering a solution to a downtown parking shortage when they sought permission to build an employee parking lot at their clinic. But the lot would be built on the east side of the street that marked the eastern border of the business district. Residents maintained the lot had to be built on the west side of the street (on property the hospital didn't own), or not to be built at all. The west side of the street was OK, the neighbors said. But building it on the east side was encroachment into the residential neighborhood.

They successfully blocked the project.

Pam Davis may think she had problems with the old state facilities planning board, but Elmhurst residents may give her even more trouble.

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks.