In January 2015, Lakewood, Ohio Mayor Michael Summers announced that the Lakewood Hospital Association, Lakewood Hospital Foundation and Cleveland Clinic Foundation had reached an agreement to close city-owned Lakewood Hospital due to “changes in healthcare” that were causing the hospital’s revenue to decline. Skeptical of this narrative, and concerned about the risk to lives, the loss of jobs and the impact on the local economy, a group of citizens formed the grassroots organization Save Lakewood Hospital.
Made up of legal, healthcare and financial professionals, and joined by politicians and concerned citizens, the group began meeting weekly to study the issues surrounding the hospital. After initial fact-finding, it became apparent that the lack of transparency from public officials and the absence of an open competitive bidding process were additional causes for concern. Furthermore it appeared that an unexplained and exorbitant increase in administrative fees and the deliberate transfer of patients and services in recent years were the primary causes of the hospital’s financial decline.
In May 2015, five members of the organization filed a taxpayer lawsuit seeking damages in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. Additionally the group attracted the help of former United States Congressman Dennis Kucinich who formally asked Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to intervene and filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission regarding the situation.
Throughout 2015, Save Lakewood Hospital members worked to raise awareness of their concerns through traditional and social media, press conferences and rallies, and regular attendance and comment at Lakewood City Council meetings. Hoping for a political solution in November 2015, Save Lakewood Hospital supported Senator Michael Skindell in his run against the incumbent mayor and placed an issue on the ballot to amend the City Charter to trigger an automatic referendum should City Council vote to approve the hospital closure. Outspent nearly ten to one, the campaigns faced stiff opposition and voter confusion tactics from the mayor’s supporters, Lakewood Hospital Association, and the political action committee Build Lakewood. Although attempts for political change were unsuccessful, it was clear by the margin that there was a will to slow the process and take a closer look at the situation.
Despite this, and ignoring at least three other healthcare operators’ expressions of interest, Lakewood City Council took the results of the November 2015 election as a voter mandate and proceeded to approve Ordinance No. 49-15 and a Master Agreement to close Lakewood Hospital and build a new Family Health Center and emergency department on adjacent property. The Ordinance not only transferred city assets to Cleveland Clinic Foundation for pennies on the dollar, it releases all parties from liability for past conduct that contributed to Lakewood Hospital’s decline and limits healthcare competition on the hospital site.
Lakewood resident, Jeanne MacKay efficiently and humorously summarized the situation by borrowing an idea from Jimmy Fallon, reading satirical “Thank You” letters before Lakewood City Council.
Following City Council’s vote, Save Lakewood Hospital members immediately went to work collecting signatures to place No. 49-15 on the ballot for voter consideration. “When it comes to the future of healthcare in Lakewood, we think we should get a second opinion from voters.”
By February 2016, more than enough signatures had been collected and certified, paving the way to proceed with a referendum on Ordinance No. 49-15. The ordinance will appear on the November 2016 ballot as Issue 64.
It is our hope that we can get our message out to voters and encourage them to vote against this legislation that puts lives, Lakewood jobs and the future of our community at risk. This is a classic David versus Goliath story, big business dictating to citizens their future and an entrenched political enterprise greasing the wheels. It’s an American story, one that reminds us just how fortunate we are to have avenues to free speech, the right to vote and a shot at justice.
To learn more visit stronglakewood.com.