Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Mercy Hospital closing in Hamilton in June

By Earnest Winston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Mercy Health Partners announced Tuesday it will close its hospital here by June, displacing 630 employees of the 109-year-old institution and dealing another devastating blow to this cash-strapped city.

        Mercy Hospital Hamilton officials said they faced losing $39 million over the next three years because many of its 108 beds have gone unused. Together, Mercy Hamilton and Fort Hamilton hospitals have more than 400 beds.

        “Our feeling was that the community could best be served by one financially viable hospital,” said Thomas S. Urban, senior vice president of health delivery for Mercy Health Partners and a former president at Mercy Hospital Hamilton.

    • Founded: 1892.
    • Employees: 500 full- and part-time; and 130 as-needed employees, which include nurses, physical therapists and pharmacists.
    • Payroll in 2000: More than $13 million.
    • Licensed beds: 108.
    • Services offered: Acute, subacute and rehabilitative services for inpatients. The hospital also offers general medical and surgical services; emergency; orthopedic; skilled nursing; and physical, speech, audiological and hand therapies.
    • Mercy Health Partners is a member of Catholic Healthcare Partners, the seventh-largest not-for-profit health system in the United States and the largest in Ohio.
        The closing will raise questions about the impact on Hamilton's economy, about the fate of patients and employees, and about the overall capacity of Greater Cincinnati's hospital system.

        Hospital officials said most of the 630 jobs at Mercy Hamilton will be absorbed by the network's other five hospitals and four long-term care facilities. Other employees are expected to retire or will be offered severance packages.

        The closing leaves the city with one hospital, Fort Hamilton, which is run by the Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati, and is twice as big as Mercy Hamilton. Health Alliance officials plan to expand Fort Hamilton's emergency department to absorb many of the patients who used to depend on Mercy Hamilton.

        Meanwhile, the decision leaves Hamilton officials scrambling to try to make up more than $400,000 expected to be lost in income tax revenues. The total payroll at Mercy Hospital Hamilton topped $13 million in 2000.

        City Council last month overcame a $1.5 million deficit in its $226 million budget for 2001, in part by cutting road maintenance, enacting a hiring freeze, trimming a playground program and deciding not to give $35,000 to the Fitton Center. The city has lost payroll taxes and other revenue after hundreds of jobs were cut by Ohio Casualty Group and International Paper.

        “This is catastrophic as far as my analysis,” Mayor Adolf Olivas said. “I don't see any way to absorb an additional $400,000 of lost revenue. I don't know that there are any contingencies left for us to put in place at this point.”

        The announcement also comes as officials at Middletown Regional Hospital ponder a decision to move to Turtlecreek Township in Warren County.

        The fate of the rust-colored Mercy Hamilton building, which sits along the Great Miami River, will be decided in the coming weeks. No decision has been made on the future of the Butler County Coroner's Office morgue, which is at the hospital.

        Employees got the news Tuesday morning. Some took it hard.

        Lois Shoemaker, who has worked at Mercy Hospital Hamilton for 35 years, is confident her job will be spared.

        But, “It's sad for the community because this was the founding Mercy hospital,” the 54-year-old Fairfield woman said.

        Janice McKinzie, 43, of Hamilton, also lamented the decision.

        “I come here thinking I had a permanent job, and it was just wiped out from under me,” said Mrs. McKinzie, who has worked at the hospital for nearly a year as a dietary aide. “I'm hurt.”

        Councilman Richard Holzberger said Hamilton will survive this latest blow.

        “It's one more big mountain and hurdle to overcome,” he said. “I feel confident we will survive.”

        That optimism is fueled in part by the projected opening of a new health clinic in Hamilton by Sept. 1. The clinic, which will primarily serve the poor and uninsured, will receive $50,000 apiece for the first three years from the Mercy Hospital Hamilton and Fort Hamilton Hospital foundations.

       Enquirer reporter Tim Bonfield contributed to this report.


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