Election Analysis: Council And Hospital

Last week's election results sent mixed signals on Lakewood Hospital's future.

Many advocates for the hospital were disappointed at the defeat of mayoral challenger Mike Skindell, who argued passionately for saving Lakewood Hospital. The narrow rejection of Issue 64, which would have provided an automatic referendum on any action by City Council to close the hospital, also appears to be a setback.

Yet Issue 64 was not, itself, a referendum on closing Lakewood Hospital. What's more, its defeat serves as a reminder that Lakewood's electorate is home to more than one viewpoint. In studying the results of last Tuesday's vote, it's worth examining the point of view of Issue 64's opponents. One of the most prominent publications to oppose Issue 64 warned that it "could doom Lakewood Hospital," which certainly casts doubt on whether its defeat represented a mandate to close that same hospital.

The most consistent argument offered against Issue 64, on the other hand, may have been that the hospital's future should be left up to City Council. If, in light of the issue's rejection, we regard this proposition as endorsed by voters, it suggests that yesterday's results as a whole were a qualified vote against closing Lakewood Hospital.

No person or issue on yesterday's ballot campaigned, formally, on a message that "Lakewood Hospital should close." (Based on published candidate statements, mailings and web sites.) By contrast, a majority of council candidates approved in this year's election have criticized the proposed hospital closure and argued that Lakewood's interests should be better defended.

David Anderson has said: "It is unquestionable that more than a dozen hospital service lines have been severely curtailed, discontinued or transferred since 2005. In fact, I have difficulty in identifying even one Lakewood Hospital Association decision designed to add patient volume and operating revenue. … The outline of the now expired Letter of Intent with the Cleveland Clinic might be the best option possible. However, with so many unanswered questions related to process and content, it is hard for me to place complete faith in that option."

Sam O'Leary declared that, "The need for more information is tremendous ... I think it is wishful thinking to suggest that the hospital could close without any Lakewood businesses or entities suffering collateral damage." Along with Anderson, O'Leary pressed for an independent study, which has confirmed that Lakewood Hospital is viable with appropriately reformed management.

John Litten states on his web site only that "Lakewood has a lot of recent economic development successes, and some challenges, not the least of which exists in Lakewood Hospital."

Dan O'Malley has offered by contrast a clear statement of support as reported at cleveland.com: "Regarding the future of Lakewood Hospital, O'Malley said he strongly believes some sort of hospital with inpatient beds should remain in the city. He said he does not favor the proposal brought to City Council in January to close the hospital and open a Cleveland Clinic outpatient family health center and emergency department in its place."

Ballots, unfortunately, consist of columns of names and ovals, and lack a section for explanatory comment. Therefore voter intent, in the absence of either a direct question on Lakewood Hospital or any candidate or issue directly campaigning for its closure, is impossible to determine with certainty. Nonetheless it seems reasonable to propose that voters endorsed assigning continued responsibility for Lakewood Hospital to City Councilnot the mayor, not Lakewood Hospital Association, not Cleveland Clinic—and endorsed council members either skeptical of closing the hospital or firmly committed to keeping it open.

Meanwhile, management of Lakewood Hospital is in the midst of a lawsuit despite constant attempts to disparage the merit of the case. Requests for an independent investigation of the surrounding issues are currently before state and federal agencies, as well.

Within this context, Council would seem very reasonably justified in accepting yesterday's vote as a mandate to defer any proposal to close Lakewood Hospital, and to pursue full information about its management and about alternatives more vigorously than ever.

Matt Kuhns

I have lived in Lakewood for seven years, and operate an independent graphic design practice, Modern Alchemy LLC.

Read More on Letters To The Editor
Volume 11, Issue 23, Posted 4:01 PM, 11.10.2015