Sermon on the Mt.

Holy men rally for Sinai's survival.

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Though hopeful, the ministers fear their efforts may be too late to revive departed Mt. Sinai. - Walter Novak
Though hopeful, the ministers fear their efforts may be too late to revive departed Mt. Sinai.
A small band of ministers is seeking a way to revive Mt. Sinai Hospital, pulling off what could only be described as a miracle.

For 98 years, Mt. Sinai provided medical services to the residents of some of Cleveland's poorest neighborhoods, including Glenville and Hough. In February, Primary Health Systems Inc. filed for bankruptcy and shut it down. Now the ministers are looking for a means to reopen the facility.

"This building should not remain empty," says Reverend Orlando Chaffe, pastor of Cory United Methodist Church. "I realize that there have been many changes in health care and insurance coverage. But if it were possible to have a hospital in every community, wouldn't that be a good thing?"

Although both the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospital are only about a mile away, neither has a Level I adult trauma center, which was a vital part of Mt. Sinai's services. Trauma cases must now be transported to East Cleveland's Huron Hospital or to MetroHealth Medical Center on the West Side, about a 20-minute trip either way.

The need to reopen Mt. Sinai became more pressing for Chaffe when one of his parishioners had a heart attack. "He said he could hear the ambulance coming, and he was praying that it would get to his home in time," says Chaffe. "When that ambulance picked him up, it had to go past Mt. Sinai to take him to Cleveland Clinic. I'm no expert on response time or anything like that, but I can't help but wonder if it would have been more helpful to him if he could have been taken to Mt. Sinai instead of spending those extra seconds or minutes getting him to Cleveland Clinic."

The parishioner survived, but the incident spurred Chaffe to ask his associate pastor, Reverend Wendell Wheaten, to organize a June 14 meeting. More than 400 people were invited. "We wanted to bring the religious leaders together from the areas that were identified as having been affected the most by the closing of the hospital," says Wheaten. Only 20 took them up on their invitation, but Chaffe and Wheaten are not deterred. Wheaten attributes the poor turnout to scheduling the meeting on the same day that Jesse Jackson was speaking at the City Club.

Among the attendees, there was definite interest in finding a way to reopen Mt. Sinai. "At the next meeting, we will try to pull together some ideas," says Wheaten. "I am in the process of setting up some appointments with people who may be able to help us."

PHS spokesman Edward Nebb says the Mt. Sinai building is still owned by PHS as a bankrupt entity. There is no way to speculate how much Mt. Sinai would be sold for, he says. "Whoever buys it would have to have the financial resources and hopefully the operation know-how as well."

At this point, neither Chaffe nor Wheaten has any idea where the money would come from to fund such an undertaking, but they are not letting that detail stop them. "It is not our idea for ministers to run a hospital," Wheaten says. "We are just trying to find a way to help our community."

This last-ditch effort may simply be too late. PHS was able to successfully close the hospital's doors without a struggle. "Nobody said a word," says local NAACP President George Forbes, who, as City Council president, led the fight to save Mt. Sinai from closing in 1978. "An attempt should have been made. Even if it didn't work, someone should have tried."

Forbes says he advised Wheaten on whom to talk to for help. "I don't have all the answers. If I did, I would have used them to help save the hospital," he says. "I think it is unrealistic to say Mt. Sinai will open up as it was before. However, that is not to say that it can't be reopened to provide a combination of services to the community."

Lance Mason, district director for District 11 Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, says that Jones is interested in this effort as well. Mason attended the June meeting on the congresswoman's behalf.

"Access to health care in her district is, of course, important to her," Mason says. "Congresswoman Jones thinks this meeting is a big first step. We need to look at all the different ways of providing health care to the needy.

"Of course it is more difficult to open something that has been shut down, but that doesn't alleviate trying to find solutions. It is not the best situation to approach it from, but the point is that someone is trying to do something."

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