Lakewood City Council Unanimously Votes to Close Lakewood Hospital

Lakewood City Council formally began the process to close Lakewood Hospital on Monday night with a unanimous vote. Even though city attorney Robert Cahill repeatedly claimed the master agreement between the Cleveland Clinic and the Lakewood Hospital Association was nothing more than “a piece of paper” as late as Monday afternoon, the document is now ratified and placed in city canon.

Read the master agreement here. And read our feature on the yearlong debate in Lakewood here

The council meeting was tense, though not nearly as impassioned as past meetings. A Dec. 7 press conference had all but confirmed that council would be voting unanimously on Dec. 21. Despite the fact that no master agreement was shared with council or the public until Dec. 10, everyone was given the sense that this was a done deal.

In fact, the sense was so strong that it compelled former mayoral challenger Michael Skindell to file a lawsuit against the council on Dec. 18. (The judge denied Skindell's request for an injunction on Monday, thus allowing the council to vote.) During witness testimony in Cuyahoga County Court yesterday, Councilman Sam O'Leary explained that he had been brought into a meeting with Mayor Mike Summers, Law Director Kevin Butler, and Development Director Dru Siley on Dec. 6 to ascertain whether he'd support legislation being written on the basis of the agreement — one which did not yet formally exist. He surmised that similar conversations may have taken place with the rest of council.

So, after 11 months of meetings, presentations, negotiations, court filings, press conferences, political campaigning, impassioned speech-making and more than a few holiday-season references to the Grinch, the “story of the century” for this inner-ring suburb slid neatly to a halt.

If only.

On Tuesday morning, a petition-signing process began among some residents hoping to place an up-or-down vote on the hospital’s fate on the March ballot. It’s uncertain what state the hospital’s operations will be in by that time.

Built into the master agreement is a ticking clock. To wit, (emphasis ours): “The wind down plan shall instruct the Clinic to wind down Lakewood Hospital’s operations (excluding emergency department services and certain outpatient services) as quickly as practicable, taking into consideration patient safety and the preservation of LHA’s assets.”

According to the agreement, if inpatient operations do not cease “by an agreed upon date in early 2016,” regardless of pending litigation, and if expenditures continue to grow, the Clinic will begin reducing the amount it will pay to the as-yet-ill-defined Community Wellness Foundation. The Clinic’s plan upfront is to use the Lakewood Hospital Association’s cash to pay the foundation $24.4 million over the next eight years. 

All of which points to a very busy winter and spring over at the hospital. 

As one resident — a weary supporter of the master agreement — told me before the meeting began last night, "This won't be over until the wrecking ball takes down the hospital."

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Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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