Yes, Lakewood Hospital does merit a do-over

Remember the backyard hens? Remember how long city council spent considering whether or not to permit hens in Lakewood yards? The Lakewood Observer records council debating this modest question at least as far back as 2011. This May, council finally voted on this issue… having deemed at least five years necessary to judge any settled, permanent policy… and even then approved only a limited number of licenses.

Yet members of council take offense at the very suggestion that their disposal of Lakewood Hospital was premature.

Confronted with one objection after another from the public, and finally with thousands of signatures petitioning to overturn the hospital’s closing, council members have insisted that they did everything which could be done. Time and again they have repeated that they spent a whole 11 months studying the issue. Asked for a formal, open bidding process, council responds that due diligence was performed. How then, they ask, can citizens possibly justify starting over again?

Perhaps because 11 months’ study is apparently inadequate for backyard hens, and just might not guarantee a thorough examination of Lakewood’s largest employer, either?

In truth, all of the combined activity of the Lakewood Hospital Association and city council has fallen well short of due diligence. The LHA’s request for proposals was, as is now obvious, a sham. The request was not widely marketed. When a response did arrive, from MetroHealth, the LHA ignored it in blatant contradiction of their subsequent claims of urgency.

Initially, city council wisely declined to accept the verdict of the LHA that a  Cleveland Clinic health center was the only possible future for Lakewood health care. Given that the Clinic controls 19 of 23 seats on the LHA board, this skepticism was more than justified. Yet in all the months that followed, council never truly took responsibility for the genuinely fresh, objective study which this issue requires.

No new bidding process took place. When Surgical Development Partners made repeated requests to discuss their interest in Lakewood Hospital with city officials, council ignored them. No economic impact study has ever issued—besides that prepared independently by Save Lakewood Hospital’s research and finance committees, which estimated nearly $300 million per year in losses to the Lakewood economy.

The report which council commissioned from Huron Consulting proved little more than a narrow review of what LHA had already done. The report suggested that this was flawed, nonetheless—despite which, council members have taken to claiming that it endorses a revised deal which had not even been written at the time of the Huron report.

Most damning of all, council never truly challenged the biased narrative that Lakewood Hospital’s reported losses were a result of forces beyond the Cleveland Clinic’s control, and that therefore absolving the Clinic of lease obligations and assigning it even more power over Lakewood’s health care somehow makes sense. When court documents revealed that the Clinic had prepared a plan to dissolve Lakewood Hospital as early as 2012, council ignored this. When Save Lakewood Hospital research pointed out that that the fees billed to Lakewood Hospital for “Administrative services” had ballooned from $2.4 million in 2001 to $24 million by 2013, council declined to pursue any explanation.

As late as the December meetings when council was racing to close Lakewood Hospital and approve a new agreement in just 15 days, Councilman Anderson of Ward 1 acknowledged that he still did not have “clarity” concerning administrative expenses and other charges. If either he or any other members of council have obtained such clarity since then, they have neglected to announce it. As it stands, in just seven years the Cleveland Clinic literally deducted more from the publicly owned assets of Lakewood than the entire cost of building Avon’s new hospital—with no explanation for those millions in fees except “administrative services.”

City council failed to obtain real answers, on this matter, before voting to close Lakewood Hospital on the grounds that it was unprofitable. This is negligence, haste, carelessness, resignation perhaps, irresponsibility certainly. It is certainly not due diligence.

Lakewood absolutely should vote against the result, start over, and perform real diligence.