Lakewood Hospital Referendum May Appear on March Ballot, May Not

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The ongoing saga of Lakewood Hospital continues, in spite of City Council’s unanimous vote in December that cleared the way for eventual closure. Save Lakewood Hospital, the grassroots group that has campaigned heavily against the Cleveland Clinic’s proposal to shut down hospital operations as they exist today, recently submitted ballot language for an up-or-down vote on the matter.

As of Tuesday morning, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections is working on verifying the group’s petitions. The board hopes to have that process completed by the end of this week, at which point the next step is council review and approval. Any official business would require a special meeting of council, likely on Feb. 5 or Feb. 8. (No meeting is scheduled as of Tuesday morning.)

The deadline for this issue to land on the March ballot is Feb. 9. SLH submitted its signatures to the city on Jan. 21; the apparent delay and the impending brush with the legal deadline has left members frustrated.

“It’s a tight timeline,” Kevin Young, SLH spokesman, tells Scene. “And [at Monday night’s council meeting] it didn’t seem that anybody on council understood what the deadlines were or understood exactly what they needed to do next.”

It’s no secret that City Hall isn’t pleased with this extra-innings campaign to keep the hospital open. And despite public pressure — more than 3,000 signatures supporting the referendum, for instance — there’s no obligation to seal this deal in time for the March ballot.

Here are the options, once the board of elections returns the petitions to the city: Repeal the ordinance that set in motion the hospital’s closure or approve the referendum for March or, if council misses the deadline, November’s ballot.

“If [the vote] is in November and [the hospital deal] gets overturned, you know, look how far things have unravelled already,” Young says. “Why wait? Get it on the March ballot.” The underlying point is that a public vote to “save” the hospital would require just that: saving the hospital. With the Clinic’s plan already in motion, that would prove to be a far more difficult task in late fall than in the spring.

We’ll be watching for whatever turns this process takes within this next week.

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