Eight Summit County jurors Thursday will begin deliberating who’s to blame in the ugly split between Summa Health and Western Reserve Hospital.
Lawyers for each side, plus a third attorney representing Western Reserve’s physician owners, wrapped up the case Wednesday by unfurling their closing arguments over three hours.
Millions of dollars in potential damages are at stake.
At the heart of the case is a contract dispute.
Summa and Western Reserve entered into a partnership in 2009 to run the Cuyahoga Falls hospital. The operation appeared successful for about five years, but then started falling apart.
A lawyer for Summa on Wednesday said the relationship soured in 2014, when the Summa officials challenged Western Reserve officials about how the hospital was being run.
Dr. Robert Kent, CEO of Western Reserve, kicked Summa members off the Western Reserve board while Western Reserve was “secretly negotiating” to sell the Cuyahoga Falls hospital to another health care group, Summa lawyer Thomas R. Lucchesi said.
Moreover, Lucchesi said that Western Reserve failed to share books and documents that would have shown the hospital was a “gravy train for Dr. Kent’s good friends and cronies.”
“They didn’t want Summa to know what was going on,” Lucchesi told the jury. “Dr. Kent was hiding the ball.”
Lawyers for Western Reserve and its physician majority owners, meanwhile, painted Summa as the villain in the divorce.
Donald W. Davis Jr. and John F. Hill accused Summa of systematically sabotaging Western Reserve’s plan to buy the Cuyahoga Falls hospital so it could close it and open a new facility about three miles away.
Among other things, the lawyers accused Summa officials of manipulating the appraised value of Western Reserve Hospital’s facility off State Road and then secretly meeting with power brokers who could derail the plan to build anew.
The lawyers also repeatedly accused Summa of planting a story in the Akron Beacon Journal that would scare doctors away from Western Reserve and toward Summa.
The newspaper story, published in September, was based largely on emails Summa sent to its staff and Western Reserve Hospital leaders sent to the paper in response to questions.
In an email, a Summa official said federal law might force it to evict Western Reserve from the Cuyahoga Falls hospital.
At the time, the partnership agreement between Summa and Western Reserve had expired and Western Reserve was trying to buy the hospital from Summa. The two put wildly different price tags on the hospital — Summa said it was worth about $20 million, while Western Reserve said it was worth just more than $5 million.
If Summa and Western Reserve couldn’t come to terms, Summa officials said federal law could force the eviction.
Kent responded by saying Summa was a “big bully trying to push the little guy around.”
Summa apparently has since backed off the threat of eviction.
Lawyers for Western Reserve on Wednesday argued that it was a hollow threat from the start and had little to do with eviction. Instead, it was a clever ruse to spread fear among doctors, causing them to abandon Western Reserve if they thought the hospital’s future was uncertain.
“It’s evil,” Davis said of the eviction threat, “but it’s smart.”
Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or firstname.lastname@example.org.