Saturday, June 02, 2001

Loss of Hamilton hospital affected many

Patients, employees transferred

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — An eerie silence has prevailed in the rooms and hallways of Mercy Hospital Hamilton since the 109-year-old facility stopped accepting patients in mid-April.

        But its closing has had the impact of a sonic boom on the hospital's former employees and the two hospitals that have assumed the bulk of its patient load.

        Of the 459 employees who had been permanently based at Mercy Hamilton, 209 have transferred to jobs at other facilities operated by Mercy Health Partners, 50 have resigned, 40 have accepted severance packages and the rest are considering their options.

[photo] A Hamilton Fire Department life squad brings a patient into the Fort Hamilton Hospital.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
        On the other hand, Fort Hamilton Hospital has hired 100 new employees and has developed a $10.9 million expansion and remodeling plan to accommodate its sudden increase in patients.

        Mercy Hospital Fairfield has accepted 131 employees so far from Mercy Hospital Hamilton.

        The 209 transfers from Mercy Hamilton have been a big boost for the Mercy facilities that have been understaffed, said Karen Kuhn, spokeswoman for Mercy Health Partners.

        The transfers to Mercy Fairfield included 42 nurses.

        “There is a nationwide shortage of nurses,” Ms. Kuhn said. “At Fairfield Mercy, we're now fully staffed with RNs.”

        Mercy Hamilton is one of five Ohio hospitals to close or to announce they will close this year. That's an unusually high number, said Mary Yost, spokeswoman for the Ohio Hospital Association.

        “Generally, we might see two or three closings a year,” she said.

        Hospital closings throughout the nation the past two years have occurred primarily because of financial losses, Mrs. Yost said. Previously, hospital closings usually occurred because of consolidations, she said.

        Mercy Hamilton closed because it faced losing $39 million over the next three years.

        Its closing has created higher patient loads on Fort Hamilton Hospital and Mercy Hospital Fairfield.

        Since April, Fort Hamilton Hospital has experienced a 49 percent increase in general admissions and a 35-40 percent increase in emergency room patients.

        “The closing of Mercy Hospital Hamilton has had a very significant effect on us,” said Jim Kingsbury, senior vice president of the Fort Hamilton Healthcare Corp.

        The March 20 announcement of Mercy Hamilton's closing caused Fort Hamilton officials to begin taking immediate steps for the anticipated increase in patients.

        In two weeks, the hospital converted two offices into emergency examination rooms. Plans call for bringing in a temporary building with five or six emergency examination rooms this summer and eventually doubling the size of the permanent emergency room.

        There are plans to build a rehabilitation unit for orthopedic and stroke patients, to add 23 patient beds through renovation and to improve and expand the operating rooms.

        The $10.9 million cost of expansion will be offset by the increased revenue from additional Medicare and Medicaid patients, Mr. Kingsbury said.

        “Our goal is to meet the needs of every patient,” he said. “We haven't had to divert any patients to other facilities or put a cap on the number of patients we accept.”

        At Mercy Fairfield, April general admissions grew by 14 percent compared with April a year ago, with May's admissions expected to be up 25 percent over a year ago, said Dr. William M. Rogers, chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Mercy Hospital Fairfield.

        April emergency room admissions were up by 15 percent from April a year ago, he said.

        “We were already growing before Mercy Hamilton closed,” Dr. Rogers said.

        Mercy Fairfield is planning major capital improvements, which include doubling the size of its emergency room over the next five years, he said.

        The Mercy Hamilton facility isn't totally vacant. There are three medical records employees and 19 employees in housekeeping, maintenance and security.

        The hospital also has three Hospice patients who will be transferred June 11 and an adult day-care business that leases space there.

        Mercy Health Partners hasn't decided what to do with the Mercy Hamilton facility, Ms. Kuhn said.

        Butler County and Hamilton officials want Mercy Health Partners to move its headquarters to the building. That would bring 400 to 500 jobs to Hamilton, which stands to lose about $400,000 in annual revenue from the hospital closing.

        Mercy Health Partners also is considering moving its headquarters — now split in four offices — into a new office building in Blue Ash.

        The closing of Mercy Hamilton saddened Linda Dinkel, a lifelong Hamilton resident who had managed the hospital's emergency room until switching to Mercy Fairfield three years ago.

        “I was born there, and my two children were born there,” she said. “It's almost like a home has been shut down. There are a lot of memories there.”

        Ms. Dinkel said she maintained close ties with many of her co-workers at Mercy Hamilton and feels badly for them.

        “The closing was very tearful,” she said. “It's devastating to go back into the emergency room where I spent so much of my life and see the barrenness now. But we all have to move forward.”

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