What may be the biggest failing of Issue 64 is exactly what its backers claim that it secures: quality healthcare in Lakewood. Much like the Cleveland Clinic’s “Vision for Tomorrow” plan, a wide gap separates Issue 64’s marketing and what it actually provides.

  1. The ordinance that is now up for a vote as Issue 64 closed Lakewood Hospital, eliminating the majority of services, including crucial lifesaving treatments.
  2. Issue 64 keeps Lakewood healthcare limited, with a noncompete clause that prevents the Cleveland Clinic’s competitors from offering any service on the hospital site, even though it still belongs to Lakewood.
  3. In return for protecting the Cleveland Clinic’s market share, Lakewood gets no guarantees. Issue 64 specifically allows for eliminating even the limited emergency care which remains, just as the Clinic has already done elsewhere in northeast Ohio.

Limited Care

National Nurses United states plainly that “Communities need access to a full service hospital, including comprehensive emergency departments.” Local healthcare advocate Yvonka Hall, director of the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition, adds that the services left after a hospital closes are not only “bare-bones,” but are selected for their profitability rather than for their importance to patient health.

Residents who have turned to Lakewood’s ER in recent months have discovered this first-hand. When Marjorie Harris suffered a stroke, the Lakewood ER’s message to her husband was blunt: “don’t call us.” The Cleveland Clinic’s mobile stroke unit was nowhere near Lakewood. Local EMS rushed Ms. Harris to Fairview Hospital, but staff there could not help, either. Only after a second detour to the Clinic’s main campus did Ms. Harris finally undergo surgery, nearly four hours after her stroke.

Dr. Terry Kilroy, an independent Lakewood pulmonologist, has explained that the Harrises’ experience was not an anomaly. “Major illnesses such as heart attack, stroke, ruptured blood vessels, shock, and gastrointestinal tears all require immediate treatment by medical and surgical specialists with the proper facilities… Our ER does not, and will not have those, as it is not connected to a hospital.” Lakewood Hospital did have such facilities and specialists, and their provision was mandated by lease terms. By contrast, while a neurosurgeon should be available at Fairview Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic owns Fairview “and has no obligation to maintain anything there.”

A Market Monopoly

The fact that Lakewood is a populous, compact community makes local hospital services all the more important. But it also makes any potential locations for them valuable resources. Our built-up city has one very good site left for hospital services—the site of Lakewood Hospital—and it’s precisely this site which Issue 64 bans other hospital systems from using.

City officials call this noncompete clause “a consideration for the Clinic,” and considerate is an understatement. With several systems already present in northeast Ohio, and other hospital operators interested in bidding as well, blocking open competition from the site of Lakewood Hospital writes a market advantage for the Clinic into city law. But this deal not only costs Lakewood heavily, today, it secures absolutely nothing for the future.

Empty Promises

In announcing the deal to close Lakewood Hospital, city officials themselves gave away the reality of promised guarantees: “The city doesn’t want to be in the business of micromanaging any health care providers’ services…”

Under Issue 64, it certainly won’t, and that includes emergency services. Rather than guaranteeing 24/7 emergency care, in even a limited form, the deal specifically declares that “there is a present need for an emergency department in Lakewood” and that “The need for emergency services may change with time.”

This absolutely could mean closing Lakewood’s ER, as the Cleveland Clinic did to another “satellite” facility just recently. Up until late 2015, the Clinic operated a medical center and freestanding ER in Sagamore Hills, very like what’s proposed for Lakewood. Then late last year the Clinic closed the ER with only one month’s notice, leaving behind an Express Care office which locks the doors every evening.

If Lakewood gives up all control over local healthcare by passing Issue 64, there is every reason to expect the same outcome here. The Cleveland Clinic sees no reason why communities need an ER; it told Sagamore Hills that “This new level of care will better serve residents.”

Lakewood can’t secure quality healthcare under Issue 64. Doctors, nurses and healthcare advocates agree, as do residents who have already seen what marketing slogans are worth in an emergency. We deserve a better deal—vote AGAINST Issue 64.