Calling for integrity from Lakewood city council

On December 7, I joined around a dozen other people speaking against what is a frankly laughable rush by Lakewood City Council to turn over Lakewood Hospital and all its assets to Cleveland Clinic for dismantling and recycling. This was a first for me. Apparently I nonetheless did reasonably well—aside from achieving any interest from the addressees of my comments. I see this morning that Scene‘s Eric Sandy even quoted from me, though his suspicion about council’s reaction is the same as my own: “No dice, it would seem.”

Ah well. Some times, you have to stand up and speak for the record even if the people who most need to listen have blocked their ears. A time may come when statements I have made on this issue will, like those of many others, be remembered and thereby yet lead toward wisdom.

For now, for that record, my remarks to city council:

Prior to this year, 1996 was probably the last time that Lakewood performed a commensurate evaluation of health care. Although I am guessing, it may be that at least one member of council had yet to begin high school in that year, and at all events few of our public servants occupied their current roles.

For this reason I would like to regard some of the instances when opportunities may have been missed, as well as the drawn-out pace of affairs overall, as indicating something of a learning process rather than any intentional oversight. I would like further to note that on more than one occasion, city officials have demonstrated patience and understanding that seems highly appropriate given the uncertainties faced by all parties in this process, rather than fixating on whether or not every “i” is dotted in the first draft or on whose responsibility it is to reach out at a given moment.

Therefore I was surprised by some of the official responses to Surgical Development Partners’ efforts to obtain a hearing from Lakewood. These responses included complaints that

“There are no specifics, absolutely none,” and that “We have been working on this for almost 12 months. To show up with so little so late, they better have something robust and do it quickly.”

Another response was, simply, “We’re not open to taking any additional presentations from anyone else.”

I recognize that this process has indeed been long and wearying, and that it certainly would have been preferable to be in contact with every potential partner for Lakewood Hospital much sooner. If this ideal outcome has not been our experience, however, I might note that city officials arguably bear some responsibility, as observed on page 43 of the August Report by Huron Consulting Group. I also note, again, that on multiple other occasions Lakewood officials have been justly accommodating toward inevitable human fallibility.

On May 1, officials from Cleveland Clinic described continued employment for Lakewood Hospital’s employees as a goal, but explicitly declined to use the word “guarantee.” More notably, quoting from cleveland.com, “One question Clinic officials could not answer was which specialties would be available at the Lakewood facility.” I see even in tonight’s documents the phrase “initially contemplated services.”

All this despite Cleveland Clinic having been directly and consistently involved in the provision of health care in Lakewood for most of 20 years. Under those circumstances I must commend the patience demonstrated by the absence of city leaders complaining “There are no specifics.”

By the same token, to my knowledge the Cleveland Clinic proposal has been formally expired for a large portion of this year. Though it may be a question for philosophers, it strikes me that any specifics in an expired proposal might, by an exacting standard, be regarded as falling short of “robust.” Nonetheless, rather than insisting “they better have something,” on September 9 Council unanimously approved sending an emissary to Cleveland Clinic to participate actively in developing a detailed proposal. On at least one occasion, I am told, people even worked through a weekend.

With all this in mind, I would like to recall a May 22 letter from one member of council. First, paraphrasing slightly:

We are… evaluating the nonbinding proposal advanced by the Lakewood Hospital Association and the Cleveland Clinic, and we must do so with respect to any other proposals as well.

Second, quoting exactly:

City council is perfectly free to consider any proposals regarding the future of healthcare in Lakewood, and indeed we are obligated to do so as community stewards if such a proposal is presented.

The context of this statement was, by the way, an active invitation to join council at a future meeting.

I submit that council deserves thanks for the thoroughness and the tolerance it has displayed again and again. Having set that standard for so long, it may now be tempting to listen to arguments for expedience above all. But if there is time to give one new proposal a chance there must be time for a second. Please, let the patient dedication which was evident in May, and at multiple other times this year, continue.

Thank you.

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