It’s time for the community to think about Forum’s future

It’s time for the community to think about Forum’s future

While we continue to hope that Forum Health can emerge from bankruptcy with its existing major assets intact, it is time for community leaders, especially those in Youngstown, to begin discussing contingency plans.

Northside Medical Center is a prime target of Forum’s creditors, who clearly want U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Kay Woods to pressure Forum to abandon all or part of the facility, which provides inpatient, outpatient and emergency room services to thousands of patients.

It is the job of Forum’s management and board to protect an asset that is the product of more than a century of community support. But if that asset has become an unredeemable liability in the eyes of the bankruptcy court, the best of intentions of the hospital’s past benefactors may not be enough to save it.

Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, state Sens. Capri Cafaro, D-32nd, and Joseph Schiavone, D-33rd, state Reps. Robert F. Hagan, D-60th, and Ronald V. Gerberry, D-59th, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-17th, are the elected officials most directly responsible for the area that would be impacted by Northside’s closing in whole or in part. But the entire medical community, the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, the Mahoning and Trumbull county commissioners, city councils, organized labor, social service, civic and religious organizations are all among those who have a place at the table.

Exploring the possibilities

They need, of course, to be talking about any ways in which they could help save Northside, but also what they can and will do if Northside is lost.

Ryan might explore whether the facilities would fit into President Barack Obama’s vision for community medical centers that are designed to shift the burden from emergency rooms to less costly alternatives. He might also see if the facilities could fit into the increasing need for Veterans Administration health care at a time when Vietnam era veterans are aging and veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are returning home with horrendous visible injuries and concussive injuries that are more difficult to diagnose.

Obviously, the mayor and city council have a selfish interest in preserving Northside, which is located in the city but lies in Trumbull County, because of the economic effect, including the loss of income tax revenue from as many as 1,600 employees.

State senators and representatives obviously have their hands full with economic problems being worked on in Columbus, but those named above, as well as others in Trumbull County must know that Forum’s survival — Northside, Trumbull Memorial, Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital and various subsidiaries — are of vital interest to the area’s economic health.

Of concern, too, would be the ability of St. Elizabeth Medical Center on Belmont Avenue to absorb an influx of inpatient and emergency room traffic if it were to become the only hospital left in the city limits.

An old English proverb suggests that we hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Forum should get all of the support it needs from the community to stave off the creditors who are circling it with increasing hostility. At the same time, the community and its leaders dare not wait until court deadlines approach in mid-September to begin asking themselves what comes next if the creditors get their way.

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