RAVENNA: By next year, Robinson Memorial Hospital probably will have a new owner.


The Portage County commissioners this month approved a plan to convert Robinson from county ownership to not-for-profit status.


The ownership change is pending approval of a final lease between the county and a community board that would be created to oversee the hospital business.


Under the plan proposed by hospital leadership, Robinson would be owned and operated as a not-for-profit business by the new local board, which would include current hospital board members.


The county would maintain ownership of the property and facility in Ravenna, which then would be leased by the new nonprofit for hospital operations.


In an interview this week, Robinson President and Chief Executive Stephen Colecchi said the change is needed to keep the community hospital viable into the future.


Colecchi said the hospital plans to have a proposed lease and a review by a national, independent health-care consulting firm completed within a month or two.


If all goes as planned, he said, the ownership change could take place Jan. 1.


“We really believe this model gives us the best opportunity to maintain local input into the health-care delivery in Portage County and not have to turn to the taxpayers to get support,” he said.


The proposal has been met with some opposition.


Commissioner Tommie Jo Marsilio voted against the plan, which was approved by the other two commissioners. The resolution notes that Marsilio hasn’t seen a lot of support for the proposal.


The 150-bed hospital doesn’t receive any local tax dollars.


But as a county-owned entity, Robinson spends an additional $1.8 million a year on state-mandated benefits and $2.8 million more on the public employees retirement system, according to Colecchi.


Last year, Robinson lost money as it faced increased charity care and bad debt, Colecchi said.


“We just want to be on the same playing field as every other hospital in Northeast Ohio,” Colecchi said.


Robinson is among the largest employers in Portage County, with 1,350 workers.


If the proposal goes forward, employees would have the option of making the transition to a new retirement system or staying with the public employees retirement system. They also would have to pay into Social Security, even if they opt to continue their public retirement system contributions. New workers would go into the new retirement system.


State law forbids county-owned hospitals from entering joint ventures with for-profit businesses, including physician practices, Colecchi said. Many hospitals in the region and nationwide have been forming partnerships with doctors to boost physician recruitment and allegiance.


Health industry experts have said local government ownership of medical facilities isn’t sustainable, largely because of the additional costs and requirements.


In Ohio, fewer than 6 percent of all general hospitals are county-owned, according to the Ohio Hospital Association. Nationwide, the number of state and local government community hospitals dropped from 1,350 in 1995 to 1,092 as of 2011, according to the American Hospital Association.


The change in ownership status would allow future ownership of Robinson by a larger health system, though nothing is planned, Colecchi said.


According to the resolution approved by county commissioners, “any proceeds from a future sale of Robinson Memorial Hospital will be used to fund the establishment of a Portage County-based Community Foundation.”


Robinson already has an affiliation with Akron-based Summa Health System that runs through 2013, Colecchi said. The proposed ownership change won’t affect that affiliation.


Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or cpowell@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.