Heights leaders react to Huron Hospital closing

Huron Hospital on Terrace Road in East Cleveland. Photo by Jeanette Sloan.

Local government officials expressed concern after the Cleveland Clinic announced this month that Huron Hospital, in East Cleveland, would close its doors on or before Sept. 4. The hospital will be replaced with a community health clinic, to open Oct. 3.

Cuyahoga County Councilman Julian Rogers, whose district includes Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland, is worried about what the closure will mean for his constituents. "What do we do with the patients who are going to Huron?" he asked.

According to Rogers, it takes only about 3 to 7 minutes to get to Huron Hospital from most parts of Cleveland Heights, compared to 20 minutes, with no traffic delays, to reach MetroHealth and upwards of 25 minutes to reach Hillcrest Hospital. "When you’re talking about trauma, minutes mean lives," Rogers said.

Rogers noted that 27,000 patients—the number "no one’s talking about"—were seen in Huron’s emergency room last year. MetroHealth will have to bear the burden of those additional patients, which will exacerbate that facility’s existing financial problems and slow things down for patients from the West Side who rely on Metro, Rogers said.

The way the Cleveland Clinic went about its decision to close Huron "shows a lack of respect for the community," Rogers said. Hospital administrators had been talking to local officials about closing the Huron trauma center for months, but "at no time during those negotiations did they mention that there was a possibility of closing the entire hospital," he said. "The Cleveland Clinic did a horrible job of communicating their intentions to the public."

In addition, Rogers is concerned about losing Huron’s 850 jobs. Beyond the increase in unemployment, the community will lose the commercial traffic from hospital employees and visitors. "Those people go to lunch every day," Rogers said. One estimate suggested that East Cleveland would lose $3 million in income tax revenue.

Cleveland Heights Mayor Edward Kelley is also upset about the decision to close Huron. "I’m not happy about it," he said. "We stand with Cleveland and East Cleveland with their frustration."

The extra time it will take for Cleveland Heights residents to get to MetroHealth or Hillcrest is "absolutely" significant, Kelley said, "I haven’t seen anybody say that’s not true."

The additional 10 to 15 minutes can mean "the difference between life and death" for trauma victims, Kelley added. He said that closing Huron is not consistent with the Cleveland Clinic’s promise of world-class care.

Kelley also said that Cleveland Heights would consider joining Cleveland and East Cleveland if they file another lawsuit to keep Huron open. The two cities sued after Huron announced its intention to close its trauma center last year, but withdrew the suit after the hospital agreed to reconsider.

University Heights Mayor Susan Infeld expressed concern for East Clevelanders and the city government. "I feel badly for that city," she said. "It’s unfortunate that a community anchor . . . will be leaving."

University Heights residents, however, are unlikely to be affected by Huron’s closing. UH ambulances take some trauma victims to Huron, but only about 10 percent of EMS trips go there, Infeld noted. Most residents already go to Hillcrest or University Hospitals.

Eileen Sheil, spokesperson for the Cleveland Clinic said that Huron’s closure should not be taken as a sign that the hospital system is leaving the area. The Cleveland Clinic included East Cleveland residents in designing and planning the new health center, which "better meets the needs of the community," she said.

While the trauma center’s closing will be a loss for the community, Sheil said the Northern Ohio Trauma System—a partnership between the clinic and MetroHealth—is "doing a great job" working toward better regionalized trauma care. "We have more trauma programs than most cities our size," she said. She also cited the clinic’s and University Hospitals’ emergency departments as nearby alternatives to Huron, and noted that the number of people who used Huron was declining.

Between the closing of the hospital and the opening of the community health center, on Oct. 3, Huron’s outpatient department (one-day appointments and visits) will remain open. Beyond that, the clinic will be providing free shuttle services from Huron to other area hospitals, Sheil said.

In addition, the Cleveland Clinic is "committed to providing jobs to those impacted" and is trying to find jobs for Huron employees elsewhere in the hospital system. Job security "goes a long way to calm people’s fears," and reduces the chances of too many Huron employees quitting before Sept. 4, which would force the hospital to close ahead of schedule, she said.

Lewis Pollis

Lewis Pollis is a lifelong resdent of Cleveland Heights and a graduate of Heights High. He is an intern at the Observer and a sophomore at Brown University. Read his blog at WahooBlues.com.

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Volume 4, Issue 7, Posted 12:08 PM, 06.21.2011