Summa Health System is closing Wadsworth-Rittman Hospital’s inpatient units and converting St. Thomas Hospital’s emergency department into a primary-care practice in a sweeping systemwide overhaul.
Summa President and Chief Executive Thomas J. Strauss said the decisions were needed to be “proactive and forward-thinking about the future of the delivery of health care.”
“These are really important changes and not easy ones but reflect what we think is the evolution of our industry,” he said.
As part of the changes announced Tuesday morning, Wadsworth-Rittman Hospital will end all inpatient services within the next three to five months. The 50-bed community hospital has been averaging fewer than 20 inpatients per day, according to the health system.
The facility will continue to offer a freestanding emergency department, an observation unit where patients typically stay fewer than 24 hours and outpatient care, said Dr. Tom Malone, chief operating officer for Summa’s care delivery system. Ongoing outpatient services will include primary-care offices, behavioral health services, imaging, cardiology, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, a center for senior health, sports medicine and physical, occupational and speech therapies.
About 90 percent of the services provided at Wadsworth-Rittman Hospital now are done on an outpatient basis, Malone said.
“What I’m looking at is consolidating inpatient services across the system and looking at what programs make sense where,” he said.
By shuttering the inpatient units at Wadsworth-Rittman, Malone said, the health system can focus more of its capital on outpatient services, which patients are demanding.
“It’s really a change in our strategy,” he said.
Although the hospital had positive operating margin in 2013, declining inpatient revenues increasingly are having a negative impact on the bottom line, Malone said. Wadsworth-Rittman lost $530,000 in the first quarter of this year, primarily from losses on the inpatient side.
Wadsworth-Rittman Hospital has about 360 employees. About 130 to 150 people are employed in the hospital’s inpatient unit.
“We do know the majority of those who are on the inpatient side of things will have a difficult time finding positions,” Malone said.
Summa already has been scaling back inpatient care at the community hospital in Wadsworth in recent years. The hospital closed its maternity unit in 2009 — a move that was met with protests by families who had their babies in the unit and those who planned to deliver there.
Wadsworth Mayor Robin Laubaugh said while she is grateful “for the continued commitment to Wadsworth,” she was “saddened with the loss of inpatient services at the hospital. It’s a difficult time for any health care provider. The health care industry is going through a lot of changes.”
At St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, the ER will permanently close at midnight June 1, according to the health system. After that time, patients needing emergency care will be sent to Summa’s Akron City Hospital.
“With the St. Thomas ED being 1.8 miles away from the ED at Akron City, it made sense to look at consolidating those services,” Malone said.
The St. Thomas emergency department primarily treats patients with behavioral health and orthopedic problems, as well as sexual assault victims and walk-in patients. The ER has 28 employees who are being moved to Akron City Hospital’s emergency department.
Aside from orthopedic problems, most of the medical cases seen in the St. Thomas emergency department can be better treated in a primary-care office, Malone said. “Really, the community needs access to primary-care services.”
The former ER space initially will become a Summa Physicians Inc. primary-care office and then a satellite of AxessPointe Community Health Center, a sliding-scale practice based in Akron.
AxessPointe is a federally qualified health center, which allows the practice to receive higher Medicaid payments to help make up for care provided to uninsured patients. The health center has locations on Arlington Street and in Barberton and Kent.
The ability to get federal support gives a practice at St. Thomas the best chance to succeed financially, Malone said.
The hospital’s emergency medicine services had been losing about $600,000 a year.
Akron City Councilman Jim Hurley, whose ward includes St. Thomas, was surprised at the news of the ER closure.
Hurley said he is concerned about the lack of an emergency room at St. Thomas for the residents in his ward, especially those who use the facility for their primary care since they lack regular access to physicians.
“They’re not really going to have a choice. They’re going to have to go [to City’s ER],” he said. Hurley said he’d be interested in knowing how many people used the St. Thomas ER.
The health system on Tuesday also announced a reorganization of Summa’s top executive posts to streamline the organization.
As part of the administrative changes:
• Strauss, the health system’s president and chief executive, is continuing to oversee all the health system’s corporate functions. Areas under his leadership are system strategy; governance; and legal, financial and outside relationships, including the relationship with minority owner HealthSpan Partners, an auxiliary of Cincinnati-based Catholic Health Partners.
• Malone, president of Akron City and St. Thomas hospitals since October, becomes chief operating officer for Summa’s care delivery system. Summa Physicians Inc. and all patient-care operations for Summa Akron City, St. Thomas, Barberton and Wadsworth-Rittman hospitals now report to him. (Summa last week eliminated the position of president of Barberton and Wadsworth-Rittman hospitals. A new senior vice president of hospital operations will be appointed that will oversee all hospitals.)
• Dr. Erik Steele, chief medical officer, now oversees Summa’s six key institutes: cardiovascular, women’s health, cancer, orthopedics, seniors and behavioral health. He also is in charge of systemwide quality, clinical integration and growth initiatives.
Business writer Betty Lin-Fisher contributed to this report. Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/CherylPowellABJ. Staff writer Betty Lin-Fisher contributed to this report.