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Medina County appeals to MetroHealth over birthing unit

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    Medina Mayor Dennis Hanwell, sitting at his desk at City Hall, might have gotten the break in bringing a birthing unit to Medina. MetroHealth System has shown considerable interest in Medina.

    BOB FINNAN / GAZETTE

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MEDINA — Medina County officials are working to convince the MetroHealth System to open a medical facility in Medina County that would include a birthing unit.

It’s been almost 15 months since Medina County has had a birthing unit.

Cleveland Clinic Medina Hospital closed its maternity ward on July 1, 2017, much to the dismay of many in the community.

And while the fervor has died down since that controversial decision, many have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to rectify what they think is a deficiency in hospital services.

Women having babies are now forced to go outside the county to give birth. That doesn’t sit well with Medina Mayor Dennis Hanwell, who said Wednesday that he might have found a solution.

A recent change in state law that would allow the Cuyahoga County hospital to operate facilities outside the county plays a big part in his plan.

However, representatives from MetroHealth did not speak to plans to open a new facility in the area when contacted by The Medina-Gazette this week, but Tina Shaerban Arundel, manager of public and media relations, said the law change is exciting.

“While the recent change in law became effective just last week, we are excited about the possibilities it will bring for both MetroHealth and Medina County,” she said.

“We continue to evaluate the market needs and where MetroHealth can best support the community.”

Where to go next?

Hanwell said when he originally reached out to MetroHealth in November 2017, he was informed that Ohio law restricted the hospital system from opening a facility outside of Cuyahoga County because of a county charter.

Hanwell said he was shocked when he sent MetroHealth President and CEO Dr. Akram Boutros an email, and Boutros called his office at City Hall 20 minutes later.

“I expressed my concerns for the region,” Hanwell said. “The entire county was affected (by the Clinic’s decision).”

Hanwell said he was concerned about the distance women in Medina County now have to travel to give birth.

The Clinic closed the birthing unit at the hospital located at 1000 E Washington St., Medina.

The Cleveland-based hospital instead welcomed women to use other maternity facilities at the Cleveland Clinic — Akron General Hospital at 1 Akron General Way, Akron; Cleveland Clinic — Hillcrest Hospital at 6780 Mayfield Road, Mayfield Heights and Cleveland Clinic — Fairview Hospital at 18101 Lorain Ave., Cleveland.

All of the hospitals have neonatal intensive care units. All three are at least 30 minutes from Medina.

Hanwell said Boutros told him he was interested in possibly coming to Medina, but they first had to find a way around the law.

“If you tell me Metro hospital is willing to explore bringing services here, I can work with the state legislators and do everything I can to promote changing this (law),” Hanwell said he told Boutros.

“He said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I’m telling you. If we can get this law changed, I’m willing to research this and see if we can make it happen.’ ”

Hanwell immediately got Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Montville Township, and Rep. Steve Hambley,

R-Brunswick, on a conference call.

Obhof suggested Boutros reach out to Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and assure him “none of the Cuyahoga County money will leave Cuyahoga County,” Hanwell said.

Both state legislators did their best to make this happen, the mayor said.

Encouraging news

House Bill 111 was signed into law by Gov. John R. Kasich in late June and went into effect in the last week.

The law includes language that gives MetroHealth the ability to set up inpatient facilities outside Cuyahoga County. It is eligible to open facilities in Medina, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Portage, Stark, Summit and Wayne counties.

While en route to Florida on vacation last April, Hanwell was contacted by his office that Boutros wanted to talk to him.

“I called from the airport,” he said.

“I’ll never forget his words. ‘Mayor, I have three daughters of birthing age. I understand your concern. If somebody did that in a location where I lived, I’d be doing the same thing you are doing. I want to help you.’ ”

Hanwell said he was left highly encouraged.

It might have been the breakthrough in which he was waiting for.

Hambley said Thursday that he has good vibes about MetroHealth coming to Medina County.

“I think there’s a good chance to enter into some kind of agreement for services, not just a birthing unit,” he said.

“It’s a great opportunity for MetroHealth, and it sees that. It’s a healthy market here to have those services. Unfortunately, Cleveland Clinic decided to abandon Medina County and leave it out to dry.”

Fewer babies born in Medina

When the Clinic announced its plans to close the hospital’s maternity ward, former Medina Hospital President Tom Tulisiak told the Gazette that there was a steady decline in the number of women choosing Medina Hospital.

There were 891 births in the last year the birthing unit was open.

The hospital averaged between 800 and 1,000 births a year in the last 10 years of its maternity ward’s operations.

Hanwell said Wednesday that the Clinic is regionalizing services in its hospitals, which led to the closing of the maternity ward.

“They wanted to direct the people to Akron General, Hillcrest or Fairview, none of which is close by for our folks,” Hanwell said. “They thought Medina was adequately covered.”

The mayor asked officials at the Clinic why a neonatal unit couldn’t have been added at Medina and was told it was cost prohibitive.

Hambley said he is still miffed at the Clinic’s decision.

“It was a long-term strategy,” he said. “They weren’t looking at true community’s needs. I love Medina Hospital. In this case, their corporate decision was counter to the best interests of the community. I was upset. We did what we could to understand why.”

Searching for a maternity partner

Hanwell said he also reached out to Summa Health, University Hospitals and Wooster Hospital, but none could make the numbers work.

The mayor said MetroHealth is gathering data about the number of births in the last five years in Medina County to see what it is dealing with.

Medina County Health Commissioner Krista Wasowski said the key role of the health department is to provide data to help the hospital make an informed decision.

She said out-of-county births made a steady increase from 2006-2016, which could be for a variety of reasons — the choice of the mother, referral by her obstetrician-gynecologist, having a high-risk pregnancy and wanting to go to a facility with particular services.

Wasowski said the decision about what will happened with maternity care lies with MetroHealth.

“It has to make sense for them, numbers-wise and with their mission,” she said.

Wasowski said she has a good feeling MetroHealth is committed to look at the needs of Medina County and “to see if it fits into the landscape.”

Hanwell said the hospital has not yet made a determination on if the new facility would stand alone, be in cooperation with another healthcare operator or use an existing space.

“All of those things are unanswered,” he said.

“I know there is interest. Now it’s about them getting the numbers to work and decide what array of services they are going to provide (besides a possible birthing unit).”

Medina numbers could support maternity

Hanwell said the Medina area is large enough to support a hospital with a birthing unit.

He said the total population of the city of Medina, Medina Township and Montville Township — communities that comprise the Medina School District — are almost 53,000 people, according to the last federal Census data.

He said the area is larger than Strongsville, for instance, which is about 51,000 residents.

He said for people looking to buy a home, healthcare services are sometimes a factor on whether they purchase a home in a certain area.

Hanwell said he didn’t take it personally when the Clinic pulled its birthing unit out of Medina. He said his first thought was for the community.

“The closing of the birthing center sent a bad message through the community,” he said. “As a result of that, I’ve had some people tell me they won’t go to the Clinic for services now. They felt it wasn’t a reasonable and fair decision for our community.”

After the birthing unit closed, residents, including many nurses, stormed the City Council meeting.

“People were up in arms about it,” Hanwell said.

“As a city, we don’t tell businesses how to run (its business). I don’t see healthcare as being any different. This has a broader effect. It’s about the constituents and whether people want to move here. It could be business owners. Business owners know their employers will live nearby.

“I’m trying to weigh all of those things. That’s why I’ve worked so hard for better than 14 to 18 months, trying to work through this, and continue to.”

Hanwell said he doesn’t think it will cost anything to have MetroHealth move into the city.

There are possible incentives that could be used to “incentivize” the hospital system to come to Medina, including Joint Economic Development District funds, Community Reinvestment Act funds and job creation grants.

At the state level, a capital grant could be offered if MetroHealth decides to come into Medina.

“I hope and pray it can happen,” Hanwell said. “You can’t twist a corporation’s arm.”

Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or rfinnan@medina-gazette.com.


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