In Lakewood, Moving On After A Long, Contentious Debate

The former Lakewood Hospital, now Cleveland Clinic at Lakewood. [photo: Matt Richmond / ideastream]
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Mary Louise Matzek lives in the Birdtown neighborhood of Lakewood. Like most of the neighborhoods in this inner ring suburb, the streets here are narrow and there’s barely enough space for a driveway between each two story house. The week before Thanksgiving, a volunteer with Lakewood Charitable Assistance Corporation, is dropping off a turkey and canned foods for Matzek.

Matzek moved to Lakewood after her husband died and she couldn’t afford the rent anymore.

“And then when I moved out to Lakewood and found out about all this, you know, I told my daughter. I said, 'there are people actually willing to help other people,'" said Matzek. 

Lakewood is different than a typical suburb. It was created in the early 20th century at the western end of the trolley line to Downtown Cleveland. Lakewood’s neighborhoods were built for car-free living. The streets are too narrow for school buses, so they’ve never had them. And, until recently, there was a community-owned, full-service hospital downtown, called Lakewood Hospital. One of the local issues on the ballot in November was whether to close the hospital. It passed, making it the second time Lakewood voters approved the city’s agreement with Cleveland Clinic to end public ownership of the 100-year-old hospital. 

“So this idea that this anchor institution was vulnerable was for some enough. We draw the line. This is the line. We fight here. And I get that piece," said Mike Summers, Lakewood’s mayor. He worked out the deal with Cleveland Clinic, which had 10 years left on a 1996 lease to operate the hospital. The city is letting the clinic out of that lease. Summers cited a changing health care industry and loss of revenue as reasons for the decision.

The hospital will be replaced with a family health care center, which will include a 24-7 emergency room and some services. But no more hospital. The nearest one is Fairview, another Cleveland Clinic-owned facility, about three miles to the south.

Voters in Lakewood have approved the closure twice. City council has also voted in favor. Summers wonders whether the dedicated opposition truly understood the facts behind the city’s decision.

“One element that I've latched onto is this idea that there was a strong push back by many in our society where they had reached an absorption level of change - this and no more," said Summers.

Opponents like Terry Kilroy scoff at this. Kilroy is a doctor who worked at Lakewood Hospital for years. He testified in front of city council back in 1996, against the city’s decision to bring in Cleveland Clinic to run the hospital. Kilroy said the loss of the hospital ends a tradition of involvement by the city in the health of its residents. 

“Your grandparents, your parents, yourself and your kids are all part of this community, the strength of that community and the desire of that community to take care of itself becomes an important issue in your life. And that's what we had," said Kilroy.

Part of the deal with Cleveland Clinic is the creation of a health and wellness non-profit in Lakewood, but it’s independent of the city. Several Lakewood residents have filed a four hundred million dollar lawsuit against the city and Cleveland Clinic, saying, among other things, that the clinic failed to fully reimburse the city for hospital assets.

Kilroy said this episode has done serious damage to his opinion of the officials running the city.

“I mean Lakewood is changing, big time. It's becoming more diverse. We have more Hispanics, we have more blacks, we have more immigrants. Go down, look at city council - there's not one person that's not some white, middle class person who's relatively well off. So the city has come to represent that group, they no longer represent the weak," said Kilroy.

He added the group Save Lakewood Hospital is trying to figure out ways to reorganize and act as a watchdog over city government in the future.

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