Lakewood Hospital Non-Debate Heats Up

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With the election just two weeks away at this point, the debate over the future of Lakewood Hospital — and, dare we say, the community as a whole — is reaching critical levels. 

Now, we’re not talking about a literal debate here; the two mayoral candidates, duking it out in a proxy war for the hospital’s fate, aren’t actually going to debate each other before the election. Mayor Mike Summers, according to a letter from challenger and State Sen. Michael Skindell, “insist[ed] on limiting” the Lakewood Hospital debate to just 25 percent of the event. No dice, apparently, as far as Skindell is concerned. He backed out, and the planned debate isn’t happening.

And it’s not that it matters much. The court of public opinion has been in full swing since January, with both sides of the hospital question lobbing op-eds and mailers and — as though the city were itself Harding Middle School — accusations of “bullying.”

(Read our feature on the Cleveland Clinic’s proposal to shutter the hospital.)

Some of this rhetorical tripe is being swapped in real life or at City Council meetings, but most of the yearlong discussion has unfolded online — in venues like the Lakewood Observer’s Observation Deck forum (“the Deck,” in local parlance), nextdoor.com, lakewoodbuzz.com, the NEOMG’s comments section, Facebook, etc. It’s all really uncomfortable to peer in from the outside, to see what appear to be middle-aged adults lambast other middle-aged adults for being “nasty” or “mean.” (Note that, publicly, no one under the age of 30 really gives a crap about any of this.)

For instance, resident Brian Essi was essentially told on after he authored an open letter on the Deck titled: “Notice to BL: BLOOD OF YOUR VICTIMS WILL BE ON YOUR HANDS.” (“BL” is Build Lakewood, the pro-Summers group advocating for the hospital closure.) Essi’s point, which he’s driven home plenty of times before via rigorous fact-checking and context, is that by doing away with a functioning emergency department, EMS transport times to places like Fairview Hospital will inevitably rise (this is true, according to EMS personnel) and, ipso facto, more lives will be lost in the process (this is inevitable, and backed up by a 2014 study out of the University of California San Francisco).

“If you are successful [in closing the hospital] and later find out the truth of what I and others have been saying and writing about,” Essi wrote, “unfortunately it will be too late.”

There was no public vetting of the notion at council meetings, nor at Lakewood Hospital Association meetings, because that’s not what council nor the LHA does. Rather, nine citizens — some directly linked to BL, at least one holding public office — filed a joint police report that accused Essi of “threatening” them. The case, baseless as it were, was closed almost immediately.

The BL crowd, for their part, have repeatedly mentioned “a woman in a red van” driving around and “shout[ing] obscenities” at people who are displaying Summers campaign signs in their front yards. It’s spooky, actually. Who — or what — is the Woman in the Red Van? It’s all very unclear.

(Imagine if you ate some really weird acid, and then traded ghost stories over a campfire with Fox Mulder — whose FACE WAS MELTING OFF — and you’re in the ballpark of what we’re dealing with here. All year in Lakewood.)

But Election Day looms, and public intimidation is a classic tactic in wartime. This week, business owners who’ve openly supported Save Lakewood Hospital (the pro-Skindell group hoping to save the inpatient hospital) have been targeted with anonymous letters warning of a boycott. (Roman Fountain Pizza on Detroit Avenue was kind enough to post the goofy letter in their window.)

“Seeing this [Save Lakewood Hospital] sign has and will keep me (sic), and I’m sure many others, from patronizing your business,” the letter states.

It’s just more dumb stuff from the F5 tornado of dumb that is the mishandled Lakewood Hospital fiasco. The city deserves better — specifically from its bumbling council, in whose hands the decision rests entirely.

Over on the Deck, the wife of an Adkins Printing employee offered a rare moment of common sense in this mess. (The anonymous letter was printed at Adkins, and employees there posted the letter in their store because it was silly.)

“The point in posting [the letter on Adkins’ front counter] was to show how ridiculous it is, not to show support for one side or the other,” she wrote. “He isn't pointing fingers at anyone but the person who thought this letter was going to make any difference to him, whoever that person may be.”

See you at the polls, Lakewood. Godspeed. 

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