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Northside hospital expansion protects vital community asset



Published: Wed, June 26, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

Northside hospital expansion protects vital community asset

Three short years ago, North- side Medical Center, a principal property of the bankrupt Forum Health Corp, clung desperately to life support. Some, including bond holders for the financially challenged health care corporation, even had begun writing its obituary.

Three years later, its recovery has been nothing short of remarkable. Judging by last week’s announcement of a $20 million patient-driven expansion to the landmark Gypsy Lane hospital by ValleyCare, its operator since October 2010, Northside Medical Center is alive and kicking and on a clear path for ongoing stability and growth.

We commend ValleyCare for its commitment to fulfilling its promise to be a responsible steward of the hospital and for its investment in what we believe will remain a sterling community asset for decades to come.

CENTURY OF UPS AND DOWNS

Northside traces its origins to the Youngstown Hospital Association that admitted its first patient in the former Southside Hospital in December 1911. Not long after that, Northside’s physical plant began to take shape. Through 10 decades, it survived Depression, two world wars, suburban sprawl, urban decay, economic discombobulation in the Mahoning Valley and the many challenges of an increasingly complex and sophisticated health-care infrastructure in the United States. Its survival was most severely tested in March 2009 when Forum Health filed for bankruptcy protection to cover $139 million in debts.

Enter Community Health Systems, one of the nation’s leading operators of general acute care hospitals, with more than 135 hospitals in 29 states, which bought the assets of Forum and created the locally-administered ValleyCare to oversee them.

In its 2010 purchase announcement, CHS pledged to invest $80 million in upgrades to ValleyCare properties, which also include Trumbull Memorial Hospital, Hillside Hospital and several suburban satellite health care facilities. With last week’s announcement of the North Side Medical Center addition and renovations, that generous goal has nearly been met.

That project includes adding a 30,000-square-foot tower that will enlarge Northside’s emergency department and create a dominant new main entrance. The plans also call for modernizing more than 28,000 square feet of the hospital, adding 21 private patient-holding rooms and creating a new endoscopy facility. Work will begin in July and is expected to be complete by late 2014.

MANY CHALLENGES REMAIN

When finished, the expansion will make Northside a more competitive player in the highly competitive Mahoning Valley health care market. The challenge to remain viable has taken on added urgency in light of Humility of Mary Health Partners’ recently announced $203 million expansion and upgrades to its St. Elizabeth Health Center’s Youngstown and Boardman campuses and its St. Joseph Health Center in Warren.

Northside also faces internal challenges, most notably the ongoing stalemate in negotiations with its 400-member nurses union. “The planned new wing at Northside will either be a tremendous community asset or a white elephant,” said Kelly Trautner, deputy executive officer of the Ohio Nurses Association. The ONA remains angered over ValleyCare’s plans for a revised staffing format that nurses contend will hurt patient care.

Northside and the ValleyCare network also face broader fiscal and operational challenges in responding to the many reforms and requirements of the Affordable Care Act. For example, a projected 34 million additional Americans will flood the health-care market in 2014 under the ACA insurance mandate.

These and other challenges, however, should not be insurmountable. After rescuing Northside and the ValleyCare network from the throes of insolvency, we’re confident officials at one of the Valley’s largest private employers can marshal the same will to serve and succeed to overcome other inevitable adversities.


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