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Empty Northside changes neighborhood landscape

What happens now? Hospital stands empty

Exterior view of the former Northside Hospital. Photo by R. Michael Semple

YOUNGSTOWN — Marvin Monroe’s neighborhood has grown much quieter in the 18 months since much of the activity at Northside Regional Medical Center came to a sudden halt.

Its closure eliminated labor and delivery and emergency room services from the complex, leaving empty the majority of space acquired by Steward Health Care about a year before.

Youngstown officials are helping the Massachusetts-based hospital system market sections of the recently renovated hospital for leasing by a hoped-for mix of tenants. The complex is still home to some physician offices, a dental clinic, a sleep center and laboratory services.

But the neighborhood has already started to change without the hundreds of nurses, doctors and support staff that once filled the hospital’s parking lots, Monroe said.

He has lived in the neighborhood for about five years, along with his sister-in-law and brother who both work in the health care field, as a nurse and a doctor / anesthesiologist. His brother was a doctor at Northside, and now works at one of Mercy Health’s hospitals in the area.

“They were working over here in Northside, and his wife started her career in Northside as a nurse, so the area was a natural place for me to live,” Monroe said from his living room. “The closing of the hospital has been a detriment to the neighborhood, it was very busy. There was always something going on — a helicopter flying over, an ambulance coming through. But it was an economic benefit.”

But when the complex closed, 388 people lost their jobs, including 160 registered nurses, though some were able to transfer to other Steward facilities.

Monroe said he wants to see the Gypsy Lane complex occupied again, and laments that it wasn’t considered as a location for the $25 million U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facility being constructed on leased land nearby on Belmont Avenue, less than a mile from Northside.

“I was hoping they would use this as a veterans hospital,” Monroe said, and he worries it will stay empty.

SERVICES

A block or two from Monroe, Margarita McGuyver sat outside her home, the hospital’s parking garage a stone’s throw away.

McGuyver “loved” living so close to an emergency room, and the proximity to the facility may have saved her son’s life.

“My son almost died; his heart stopped,” McGuyver said, waving toward the hospital complex. “I got him over here, he couldn’t breathe … 27 years old. But they brought my son back. They had a team here.”

The incident was about five years ago, and he is now doing well.

Without the hospital, McGuyver — a stroke victim herself — said she wonders what will happen to her or her son if they have to travel for emergency services.

She has to travel for her treatments, and wishes the emergency room and other medical services were still close.

“I pray to God that will never happen again,” McGuyver said.

Residents in the neighborhood off of Gypsy Lane are still fairly close to Mercy Health’s facilities that offer labor and delivery and emergency room services.

St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, which has a Level 1 trauma center and a primary stroke center, is about 1.5 miles from the Northside neighborhood. And St. Elizabeth Boardman Hospital, which has a labor and delivery unit, is about 15 miles south of Northside.

But people like Monroe, McGuyver and Carol Smith, a Northside nurse for 36 years, said they are saddened that no babies are born in Youngstown anymore.

Smith is president of the Ohio Nurses’ Association for the district that includes Youngstown and is a resident of the Northside neighborhood. She said the closure is among the other symptoms of Youngstown’s shrinking population.

“We lost GM (the General Motors Assembly Plant in Lordstown), my daughter had to move to Tennessee after spending 25 years with them. And we lost The Vindicator (now published in Warren as an edition of the Tribune Chronicle). It is shocking what we can no longer support,” Smith said.

There is a “big, empty hole” in Smith’s neighborhood. “It makes me feel very, very sad. The hospital was a staple in the neighborhood for decades. It makes me wonder what is next to go?” she said.

THE FUTURE

The original hospital was opened in 1929. When it closed in September, a spokeswoman said Steward Health Care could not speak to what will happen with the main building — whether that portion of the property will be sold, leased to another health care provider, boarded up or maintained for a future Steward venture.

The company also operates Trumbull Regional Medical Center, Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital, and hospitals in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana and Utah, and “is the largest private, tax-paying hospital operator in the country,” according to steward.org.

“Just like members of the community, we would like to see the property utilized to its full potential. We continue to explore options for a long-term solution that will add to the revitalization of this neighborhood and benefit the entire community,” Steward Health Care stated Friday in a brief email — following several requests for comment and interviews.

Youngstown officials said the city is working with Steward in hopes of leasing sections of the hospital to multiple tenants.

“We are working on a long-term plan,” Sharon Woodberry, director of economic development for the city, said. “Our office is working to identify potential occupants of the space. Since it is so big, they are likely to lease parts of it to multiple occupants. There is likely no single end user to occupy the entire building. Steward has been helping us identify potentially good tenants and has been making it available to show. We are working with them on their needs.”

Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said he doesn’t want the building to end up vacant.

“We always have concerns about vacant structures in the community, that’s why we are continually working with Steward Health to explore options for the building’s future use,” Brown said via email.

The city wants to ensure residents have access to health care. “This very issue has been brought up to Gov. Mike DeWine and we are working to figure out how to address the access to health concerns,” Brown said.

Smith said she “would love to see the hospital reopened, period. Citizens deserve to have access to ER and health services in the community they live in. I don’t know how to make it happen, but I would love to see it.”

An acceptable alternative would be to transform the facility into a place to offer mental health services, Smith said.

“The access and availability of mental health beds in the area is very limited. There are about 20 beds in the area for mental health services. I am sure there are more than 20 or 30 people at a time in the region experiencing a crisis that requires hospitalization. This isn’t Northside’s fault, the area has been lacking in that area for a while, but it hasn’t helped,” she said.

But Woodberry said filling the space left vacant at Northside will be “challenging.” There are some sections that could be more easily leased, including 43,500 square feet of medical office space and 16,000 square feet in the cafeteria that could be used for a company in the food industry.

“It is a challenge; it is a very unique space. There are not a lot of end users that can use it the way it is and in the configuration it is in. The space cannot be easily altered because of the oxygen lines. The nature of the building makes it difficult because we have to find people who can use it as-is,” Woodberry said.

OPERATING LOSS

Youngstown isn’t the only city to lose a hospital as the industry changes. Hospitals around the country are closing, in rural areas that can’t support them and in cities such as Youngstown that had multiple facilities it could no longer support.

In a review of why 11 U.S. hospitals closed in 2018, Becker’s Hospital Review found most were connected to financial stability issues, including hospitals struggling with debt — and hospitals in close proximity to one another unable to take enough of the market to survive.

When Northside closed in September 2018, it was operating at a net loss of $45.229 million, while taking in about $366.939 million in gross patient revenue with its 84 beds and 2,951 discharges per year, according to the American Hospital Directory. The closure came after a 2013 infusion of $20 million in upgrades, which added 30,000 square feet to the building and refurbished 28,000 square feet, including the addition of new emergency treatment rooms.

Comparatively, St. Elizabeth Boardman in 2018 brought in $877.858 million, $22.265 million of which was net income, with 206 beds and 13,694 discharges per year. And St. Elizabeth Youngstown in 2018 generated $1.684 billion, $13.981 million in net income with 364 beds and 16,804 discharges.

St. Joseph Warren Hospital in 2018 generated $802.930 million, of which $11.682 million was a net income, with 127 beds and 9,617 annual discharges.

Steward’s Trumbull Regional Medical Center in 2018 generated $877.948 million in revenue, with $5.8 million in net income, with 219 beds and 7,946 discharges.

Mercy Health, which operates the two St. Elizabeth hospitals and St. Joseph Warren Hospital, is a nonprofit, while Steward is for-profit.

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