Northside hospital closing is a clarion call for region


The decision by Steward Health Care to shutter Northside hospital by Sept. 20 prompted us to dust off an editorial we published in February 2017 when the Boston-based hospital company announced its purchase of hospitals in Mahoning, Trumbull and Mercer counties.

The editorial highlighted a comment from Dr. Michael Callum, executive director of Steward, that today sticks out like a sore thumb:

“We are not here to continue to cut services. We are here to grow the business. We are here to bring patients back to this hospital.”

At that time, Callum’s words were music to the ears of the staffs at Northside Medical Center in Youngstown, Trumbull Memorial in Warren, Hillside Rehabilitation in Howland and Sharon Regional Health System.

Truth be told, we were also swept up in the excitement that a physician-led, for-profit health services organization and community hospital network was investing in this region.

After all, Steward Health, which is backed by Cerberus Capital Management of New York, has 3,000 physicians, 10 hospital campuses and 24 affiliated urgent-care provider locations.

In 2010, it acquired Caritas Christi Health System, a Roman Catholic organization, and since then has invested more than $850 million to improve its quality of care and facilities.

Residents of the Mahoning and Shenango valleys were relieved that a major player in the health-care field was taking over the three hospitals and the rehabilitation center.

After all, the facilities in Mahoning and Trumbull counties have had an uncertain existence.

In 2011, Community Health Systems bought them from Forum Health, which had been in bankruptcy for 16 months, for $120 million.

We wondered what the purchase meant for health care operations in the region.

The answer: A reduction in workforce via layoffs and retirements.

Thus, when CHS, the nation’s largest publicly traded hospital company, sold its holdings in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys to Steward, we again asked what it meant.

Reassurance

Dr. Callum sought to reassure residents that Community Health’s business plan would be shelved.

For a while it seemed Steward was on the right track with its regional holdings, which is why Wednesday’s announcement of Northside’s closing is such a shock to the senses.

The statement from the company provided little reassurance.

“This is a difficult decision, but Northside Regional Medical Center remains chronically under-utilized as patients in the community choose other hospitals,” said Daniel Knell, Central Region president of Steward Health Care. “Every night, four out of five beds at the hospital are empty. It’s simply unsustainable.”

There’s no doubt that the financial and social fallout from the closing will be significant, but we aren’t ready to sound the death knell for the hospital, which has been a fixture on Gypsy Lane for 135 years. We’re confident the community will come together, as it has done previously, to explore other options for the medical campus.

Youngstown city government, which stands to lose about $900,000 a year in income tax revenue, and Trumbull County, which receives $430,000 annually in property taxes, should lead the effort in finding another occupant.

We urge Steward Health Care to work with local government, business and labor leaders in charting the future. After all, the company will continue to own Trumbull Regional Medical Center, Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital and Sharon Regional Medical Center.

There’s no denying Steward Health’s decision to shutter Northside Regional will disrupt hundreds of lives. A total of 468 staffing positions will be affected, including 188 nursing slots.

Job fairs are planned, and leaders of other local hospital systems, led by Mercy Health Youngstown, are prepared to serve Northside’s patients and possibly hire some of its employees.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, and other area officeholders are committed not only to making sure the health care needs of all area residents are met, but that Northside’s employees receive the help they will require as they transition to other jobs.

On Friday, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he would contact the White House to discuss the establishment of a VA clinic at Northside. We urge him to broaden the scope and lobby for a full-service veterans hospital.

President Donald J. Trump has asked for $12.1 billion more for the VA for 2019 than it received this year. Much of the money would be spent on health care.

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