By Sue Botos
Emotions ran high during a recent community meeting hosted by representatives from Lakewood Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic. Residents entering the packed Mackey Main Theater at Beck Center for the Arts were handed fliers urging them to contact city officials to help save the historic facility. After presentations outlining the proposed future of the hospital property, including the demolition of the current building and construction of a 62,000 -square-foot family health center, residents took to the microphones, many introducing their comments with personal stories about experiences with Lakewood Hospital.
But at the end of the over two-hour meeting, one conclusion was made clear: The hospital could not continue in its present configuration.
“Our objective here is to present the details of a two-year process; determine strategic options and explain why this makes sense,” Lakewood Mayor Michael Summers told the audience of about 400. He was joined on stage by fellow Lakewood Hospital Association member Tom Gable; Lisa Fry, a consultant from Subsidium Healthcare; Cleveland Clinic chief of staff Brian Donley; Ken Haber, of the Lakewood Hospital Foundation; and hospital Interim Director Shannan Ritchie.
Summers reviewed the history of the nearly 100-year-old hospital, noting the unique ownership agreement between the city and the Cleveland Clinic, which came on board as a private partner in 1996. As outlined in a “letter of intent,” the city owns the building, which is leased by Cleveland Clinic, and the Lakewood Hospital Board of Trustees oversees operations. If City Council approves the hospital’s closure, the Clinic will build and operate a family health center on two acres of the property. The city will then be free to seek retail, residential or office use for the remaining four acres.
The hospital will continue current operations until 2017, when the new Avon hospital is set to open.
On Jan. 14, the 23 trustees voted to adopt the letter of intent, detailing a proposal for the hospital’s future, which calls for the elimination of inpatient beds and a concentration on outpatient services. The health care center will retain 24-hour emergency room services.
Noting that the new facility will stress prevention and wellness, Summers stated, “Chronic conditions are not served lying in a bed.”
These thoughts were echoed by Gable, who said that the board had noted a marked decline in the volume of patient procedures and insurance reimbursements in recent years. “We, as a group, can’t just stand by and watch this deteriorate.” Gable added that incentives had been tried with little effect.
As a result, Gable said, the board contracted with the Atlanta-based Subsidium Healthcare to devise a “strategic plan” to “develop a heath care plan for the future.”
Fry stated that Subsidium was chosen in July 2013 to evaluate “strategic options.” Using slides to illustrate the growth of nationwide outpatient services and the decline of extended hospital stays, Fry said that 10 options were considered, including a “specialty hospital,” long-term care facility and rehabilitation center. Fry stated that Lakewood was also “marketed” to other hospital consortia, such as University Hospitals and MetroHealth Medical Center. “We got some initial interest, but when it got into (particulars), no one was interested in purchasing and keeping the hospital in town.”
Donley spoke of the “burden of care cost” for health care. He stated that the proposed changes, centering on outpatient and even home care, “will be a better experience for the patient, better quality and more affordable.” Chronic care specialties planned for the new facility, he stated, include pulmonary disease, diabetes, mental health, chemical dependency and education about healthy lifestyles.
Summers added that the city will be losing $1.5 million in revenue after the hospital closes, but a “tax free” arrangement with the Clinic’s Avon facility will net the city $1 million a year for five years. The city will also receive $8.2 million from the sale of an affiliated medical building in Westlake.
Construction of the new Avon hospital was a hot button for residents, who felt that inpatient care is needed more in the densely populated, older Lakewood area, and that the hospital’s demise had been carefully planned. Gable drew some groans from the crowd when he stated that the closing of Lakewood Hospital and the opening of the Avon facility was “purely coincidence.”
Terence Kilroy, M.D., a pulmonologist who has been practicing at Lakewood for 30 years, said that when independent physicians aged out, the Clinic did little to find affiliated replacements, gutting the staff and moving services to Fairview Hospital. He added that “stating that preventative care will solve (illness) is Peter Pan thinking.” He pointed to the needs of residents, many elderly, already with chronic conditions, requiring occasional hospitalization.
Another community meeting to discuss the plan will be held on Feb. 11 at Lakewood City Hall. Further information will be posted on the city website at www.onelakewood.com.