Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic again is calling for the city’s rival hospitals to quit competing and to merge.
During his State of the City address in front of 650 attendees at the John S. Knight Center on Wednesday, Plusquellic urged Akron General and Summa health systems to join forces.
“The idea that we need two adult hospitals duplicating costs and competing makes no sense,” he said.
The mayor said he’s concerned that Akron’s hospital industry is turning into a battlefield, with larger, out-of-town health-care systems taking potential ownership interests in the local facilities.
Akron General is in talks to find a larger partner, and Summa entered a deal last year giving an auxiliary of Cincinnati-based Catholic Health Partners a minority ownership stake.
The mayor compared the potential influx of outside hospital ownership to the downfall of the local tire and rubber industry. One by one, local headquarters operations at B.F. Goodrich, General Tire & Rubber Co. and Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. closed or pulled out of Akron decades ago.
“I do not want these outside interests coming into Akron, the blue coats and the gray coats, with the result that we become a Gettysburg of health care, left to pick up the pieces after the battle is done by shifting health-care decisions from local, caring people in white coats to some executives in three-piece suits somewhere far from Akron,” he said.
When asked whether a partnership with Summa could be possible, Akron General spokesman Thomas R. Neumann wouldn’t completely dismiss the idea but said “that’s not a likely decision.”
An Akron General-Summa merger could create increased wait times for patients and potential job losses, Neumann said. The move also would likely face scrutiny by the federal government for potential antitrust issues.
“Competition creates choices,” Neumann said. “Health-care decisions are very personal decisions. Nobody wants to be limited to one choice.”
In a prepared statement, Summa Health System President and Chief Executive Thomas J. Strauss said, “We have been very open in the past about our belief that a more formal relationship with Akron General would be positive for our community.
“ … We did initiate discussions to that end prior to the beginning of our search in 2012 for a minority partner,” Strauss said. “It was very clear from those discussions that despite both organizations’ strong desire to provide care to the community, our models simply do not align.
“With that said, we have moved on, and I can tell you that there are no discussions happening between our organizations.”
The mayor acknowledged there have been previous unsuccessful talks to merge Akron’s two adult hospital systems with Akron Children’s Hospital.
“But each time,” he said, “it’s been stymied by this overwhelming idea that competition is more important than anything else.”
If the hospitals won’t agree to merge, Plusquellic said, then community and business leaders should form a board to “be a strong voice to ensure collaboration between medical entities.”
Keeping with the theme of collaboration and merger, Plusquellic also used his speech to float the idea of establishing a unified city-county government for all the communities in Summit County.
“In today’s world, do we really need 20 police chiefs, 15 fire chiefs, 28 school superintendents?” Plusquellic asked. “ … The sooner that suburbanites recognize that the world sees Stow and Green and Mogadore as ‘Akron’ or ‘Summit County’ and the more we work together, the more everyone in the region will benefit.”
Plusquellic suggested Summit County Executive Russ Pry “is perfectly suited to take on this task” of running a combined city-county government.
After the speech, the mayor said he would be willing to abolish his own position and pledge not to seek another public office if those moves could help make the consolidation possible.
Pry said he hadn’t heard about the mayor’s proposal until Wednesday’s address.
“It would be a very large challenge to get all these communities to come together,” Pry said.
Even without a merger, Pry said, the county can continue to work more closely with the cities and other subdivisions whenever possible.
Pry and Plusquellic pointed to the merger of the Akron and county health departments and building departments as successful examples of collaboration.
The State of the City address was sponsored by the Greater Akron Chamber, Kiwanis Club of Akron, Rotary Club of Akron, Akron Press Club and Akron Roundtable.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/CherylPowellABJ.