Health Care

Northside Closing Was ‘Decade in the Making’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Steward Health Care’s decision to close Northside Regional Medical Center was “a decade in the making,” a spokeswoman for the health-care provider said Wednesday.

Boston-based Steward announced yesterday that it would close the Gypsy Lane medical center. Northside, which opened in 1929, was among the facilities that Boston-based Steward acquired when it purchased the assets of ValleyCare Health System of Ohio in May 2017.

Trish Hrina, central division regional marketing director for Steward, attributed the decision to “years of patient decline.” The 398-bed hospital, which completed a $20 million expansion and renovation four years ago, averaged 35 patients daily over the past six months.

“The community has voted with its feet and there is no path forward for Northside Regional Medical Center,” Hrina said. “The number of patients using the hospital annually has decreased by 71% over the last decade, and every night, four out of five beds are empty. It is simply unsustainable.”

The hospital has 388 employees. Its workforce includes 177 registered and clinical resource nurses, more than 30 medical technologists, 17 nurse assistants, 31 environmental services workers and 19 food service workers.

According to a letter Steward sent via overnight delivery to Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and Anthony Traficanti, president of the Mahoning County Board of Commissioners, “certain functions” that aren’t part of Northside but are “physically located” on the hospital’s property “will continue to operate.”

Hrina could not speak Wednesday to the eventual fate of the Northside physical plant. The focus of the day was on working with employees and patients to transition through the closure, she said.

She also emphasized Steward’s commitment to its other assets in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys – Trumbull Memorial Medical Center in Warren, Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland and Sharon Regional Medical Center in Sharon, Pa. – which it also acquired last year.

“We have said all along that Steward is much more than a hospital company,” she continued. “We’re an accountable care organization and we’re growing in this market – adding leading physicians to our practices and maintaining our commitment to great care in the region.”

Brown was unavailable for comment Wednesday, but city Law Director Jeff Limbian expressed concern for the patients and employees at Northside, as well as the impact on the city’s financial condition.

Last year, the city collected $1 million in income tax from hospital employees, Limbian reported. Year-to-date, the city has collected $500,000 and expects to collect $900,000 by the end of the year. But the loss of such a major employer is going to put a “big strain” on the city’s budget, he added.

“It’s going to be a big concern.”

Health care represents a third of the Mahoning Valley workforce, and thinking about the effect Northside’s closing will have and what can be done with the other regional partners in the industry is important, said James Dignan, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

The decision “was a surprise” but one the Steward officials had to make based on what worked for them in the market, Dignan acknowledged.

It was “disappointing that this was the solution that they came up with,” he continued. “Hopefully we can find other ways to strengthen the business that they do have here.” h

Dignan said he is curious to learn the fate of the Northside campus and pledged to work with Steward to “transition those properties and find some good uses that would make sense for our community.”

Dignan and one of his predecessors at the chamber – John Moliterno, now executive director of the Western Reserve Port Authority – said they didn’t want to see Northside suffer the fate of the long-unused St. Joseph Riverside Hospital building in Warren.

“That’s been a terrible problem for that neighborhood,” Moliterno said. “We don’t want to see that happen on the North Side.”

Although unsure what role the port authority might play, Moliterno said it would help “in any sense” that it could. “We’re really not sure what their plan is,” he said.

According to Hrina, there are more than 200 job openings among Trumbull Regional, Sharon Regional and Hillside Rehabilitation alone, as well as openings at Steward-affiliated medical practices locally, and Steward will work with employees to transition to new positions. Onsite job fairs are set for Aug. 23 and Sept. 6 to help connect employees to other Steward sites or find other medical jobs within the region.

“There are also hundreds of open health-care jobs within this market and Steward is already working with area employers to help Northside employees find new positions,” she said.

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Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.