Lakewood in wartime

Election Day is Nov. 3. Dig my feature on the War of Lakewood Hospital, which features several “proxy battles” on the ballot, including the mayor’s race, a few City Council races, and a charter amendment issue. (For those not in the know here, or whatever, I live in Lakewood.)

It’s a monumentally complex topic — the debate over the hospital’s past and future — and it’s essentially transformed into a bizarre series of middle school shouting matches. The whole mess raises the need for accountability in politics and journalism. Powerful people should not be allowed to say “the past is the past, mistakes were made, etc.” I realized in writing this piece that there is always a reckoning — that the facts of the matter must be leveled.

We’ve all got it coming.

I really liked this piece for a number of reasons — namely, the opening section is just smooth as hell.

Tom Monahan slaps a clipboard onto a long wooden table that runs half the length of his front porch. “We’re getting there,” he says, gawking from behind a pair of eyeglasses and tossing a ballpoint pen onto the papers. He’s talking about gathering thousands of signatures in support of a charter amendment issue for the city of Lakewood. He’s talking about saving Lakewood Hospital.

This house where Monahan lives is the house that Dr. C. Lee Graber built in the very early years of the 20th century. The front windows are tucked low into the walls’ wooden frames, because Graber’s wife, Belle, was an invalid and she liked to sit in her wheelchair and watch the nascent suburb buzz by each day. The city was transforming back then, as it is now.

The Grabers mortgaged their home to open Lakewood Hospital just up the road in 1907, and what was then a 15-bed hub in the center of town soon became a cornerstone for Lakewood, for its culture and legacy. Monahan, a retired Cleveland Press reporter and former assistant safety director in Cleveland, is one of many residents working to keep it that way.

Cleveland Clinic, which operates the hospital, has signaled its intent to close and demolish the hospital and open a $34-million outpatient “family health center” in its place. Despite the finality with which the argument has been framed, representatives at City Hall have insisted that it’s just a proposal. Cleveland Clinic operations are conducted via a 1996 “definitive agreement” with the Lakewood Hospital Association (LHA), a private nonprofit that leases the hospital property from the city. The public owns a majority of the hospital.

Because the arc of Lakewood’s biggest story in years has become so distorted and divisive, it’s hard to say what will happen. In the words of one City Hall staffer, “It’s confusing as heck.”

Several things are certain, though. This struggle to save or shutter the hospital is changing the city’s landscape — its culture and legacy —irrevocably. And while the closure of Lakewood Hospital isn’t a done deal per se, it has been discussed publicly as such all year. Documents obtained from the Clinic show that it’s been part of a master plan for at least three years.

“Keeping the hospital open is just not an option,” Mayor Mike Summers said during a February meeting of the city’s Active Living/Recreation Taskforce. Later in the year, a report published by the Huron Business Advisory group demonstrated that keeping the hospital open in some form is definitely an option. Dissonance like that is where Monahan comes in.

Faced with what they’re calling a propaganda campaign, Monahan and his group — Save Lakewood Hospital, several hundred strong across the city — peppered the neighborhoods with petitions that would amend the city charter in such a way as to trigger an automatic voter referendum in the event of any future hospital closure. The seven members of City Council, deeply divided over the hospital issue, unanimously approved the ballot measure. Whether or not council approves the hospital closure plan before the November election remains to be seen.

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