Monday, June 6, 2011

Huron Hospital to close; Cleveland, East Cleveland may sue

The Cleveland Clinic will close Huron Hospital in East Cleveland within three months -- setting up a confrontation between Cleveland's mayor and its largest employer.

Frank Jackson is mad. It sounds like he's going to sue. Cleveland's EMS takes 3,000 patients a year to Huron's emergency room. The mayor feels misled, and despite his normally placid personality, his anger when he decides he no longer trusts someone can be ferocious. (Just ask Jane Campbell.)

From his press release:

We have been engaged in what we believed to have been good faith negotiations regarding the ramifications of the closing of a level two trauma center at Huron Hospital. At no time did the Cleveland Clinic disclose their intent to close the entire hospital. In fact, when asked directly about the future of Huron Hospital, Clinic Officials stated that there was no intention to close the emergency room, let alone the entire facility. ...

The Cleveland Clinic has left the City with little choice but to resume legal action in an effort to protect the public health and safety interest of our community.

East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton may well join a lawsuit. Norton, 39, a politically skilled mayor in his first term, is facing a defining moment in his career: East Cleveland isn't just losing a hospital, but also its top employer. (To read my profile of Norton, click here.)

Hospital closings can become major controversies in Cleveland. Think back on the huge uproar over St. Michael and Deaconess hospitals in 2000, one of the key ingredients in Dennis Kucinich's populist legend.

But the savvy Clinic leadership must know this. I expect they know what they're getting into and have decided that now's the time to face up to it, even at the risk of alienating the city's political leadership. From the Clinic's press release:

Many factors negatively impacted this once-thriving hospital, including a steady decline in patient use, a rapidly shrinking population, costly maintenance of the hospital’s aging facilities, and substantial fixed costs that were much higher than the hospital could maintain.
The Clinic will replace Huron Hospital with the Huron Community Health Center, now under construction. Of course, the Clinic didn't put it that way last year when it broke ground on the $25 million health center, though some quotes from Clinic officials then sure read differently now.

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