Pechulis helps fill urgent health-care need

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Pechulis with her sons, Joseph (left) and John

Westlake Urgent Care is a labor of love and source of pride for Shellye Pechulis, a nurse with more than four decades of experience who was integral to its creation in 2021.

Pechulis, 71, currently works as nurse administrator at the non-profit urgent care facility in Melrose Park, which was created by her and a team of doctors, nurses and medical professionals who banded together to meet the needs of the community.

“When we opened up everybody laughed at us and said we’d never make it,” she recalls. “Well, here we are.”

Pechulis, whose father was born in Foggia, Italy, grew up in Chicago’s Taylor Street neighborhood with dreams of becoming a pediatrician. She developed a passion for nursing after serving as a candy striper at a hospital and earned a nursing diploma from Cook County School of Nursing and a bachelor’s degree in nursing from DePaul University. She also earned an MBA in 1993.

For 31 years, Pechulis worked as an emergency room trauma specialist at the former Cook County Hospital. “I dealt with all the trauma: gun shots, stab wounds, beatings. At that time, County was the only trauma center in the city of Chicago,” she says. “I loved County. What I really enjoyed about it was seeing the end result. Of course, you do see death, but when you can put all that work into something and you come out and get a good outcome for the patient, it feels good.”

Pechulis “retired” after Cook County Hospital closed in 2002 to move into a new building. “I had been at the old hospital my whole career, and the new hospital was for young nurses with new ideas,” she explains.

She pivoted to working as a temporary shift nurse at various hospitals, and opened an Italian restaurant whose menu featured all the dishes she was taught by her grandmother. She has since sold the restaurant, which later closed.

In 2013, Pechulis decided to accept a full-time position at Westlake Hospital, whose environment appealed to her. “I spent six years there, and they were great. It was a different aspect of nursing in the ER that I had never seen before. That ER was like community nursing: colds, coughs, flus, kids with runny noses.”

Then came the blow: Westlake Hospital was purchased in 2018 by California-based Pipeline Health, which declared bankruptcy and shuttered it the following year, despite massive local efforts to save it. Patients, many of whom were without health insurance and primary care doctors, were left stranded, Pechulis says.

That’s when she and the others — including Dr. Nabil Saleh, a pediatrician; Dr. Kathleen Ward, a cardiologist; and Dr. Mohammad Vaseemuddin, a nephrologist — decided to create Westlake Urgent Care NPF, which provides urgent care, pediatric care, occupational health and more to about 20,000 patients per year.

Pechulis attributes the nonprofit’s success to several factors.

Most urgent care centers are staffed by a physician or nurse practitioner, plus a medical assistant. Instead of the latter, Westlake has a fire department paramedic on staff, Pechulis explains. “First, I have a soft spot for paramedics… I trained a million of them at County,” she says. “Paramedics have a license. They are educated, they know why they do things, and they can identify problems and work with physicians as a team.”

The facility provides free care to patients, only relying on payments from health insurance companies and public assistance, she says. Costs are carefully monitored, and leases and vendor contracts are renegotiated every year. “I don’t ‘balance bill,’” Pechulis says. “I have always believed that God takes care of people, and He is well taking care of Westlake Urgent Care. We have never been in the red. We are always in the black.”  Also, all 20 staffers are part-timers but get health insurance and paid vacation, she adds.

Westlake Urgent Care continues to expand its services: In the last year, it added allergy testing and a program for people with Helicobacter pylori (or H. pylori) stomach infections.

So what are Pechulis’ plans for the future? “I love what I do,” she says. “We service our community. I don’t see my future being anything different. I have a great group of friends there; I have good support from the community and from the medical personnel that refer people to us. I don’t see myself doing anything different.

For more on Westlake Urgent Care, click here.

About Elena Ferrarin

Elena Ferrarin is a native of Rome who has worked as a journalist in the United States since 2002. She has been a correspondent for Fra Noi for more than a decade. She previously worked as a reporter for The Daily Herald in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, The Regional News in Palos Heights and as a reporter/assistant editor for Reflejos, a Spanish-English newspaper in Arlington Heights. She has a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Check Also

Valle honored by Chicago realty group

The Chicago Association of REALTORS® inducted Marion Valle into its Hall of Fame in 2023. …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Want More?

Subscribe to our print magazine
or give it as a gift.

Click here for details