MetroHealth holds Campus Transformation Plan community meetings
by Bruce Checefsky
(Plain Press, August 2019) A pharmacy, day care center, affordable restaurant, coffee shop, medical marijuana dispensary, recycling center, and a community makers space were just a few suggestions residents of the Clark-Fulton neighborhood made during several community meetings with officials from MetroHealth. The residents were responding to being asked what new businesses and services they would like to see in their neighborhood as part of the MetroHealth Community Transformation Plan.
MetroHealth hosted the meetings to gather feedback from neighborhood residents in preparation for the much anticipated $1 billion campus transformation to help realize a new future for Clark-Fulton, according to Greg Zucca Director of Economic & Community Transformation for MetroHealth.
“MetroHealth plans to build affordable housing units on a parking lot at West 25th Street and Sackett Avenue, and two buildings with market-rate apartments on 25th Street,” Zucca told the audience of about sixty residents who were treated to pulled pork sandwiches and green salads prior the meeting starting at the Family Ministry Center on Fulton Road on July 10th. “Food is so important to overall healthy living,” he added.
MetroHealth is also bringing affordable Internet to nearby homes within a 3-mile radius of its campus. These residents will have access to the Internet and each home will receive a free laptop. Their ultimate goal, according to Zucca, is to “provide and deliver health care via the Internet through tel-medicine to communicate with doctors and fill prescriptions but also a way for people to access jobs and education.”
Alex Williams, a resident of Clark-Fulton, wonders whether MetroHealth can execute the expansive community plan. “Everybody has a grand entrance when they start and say they’ll do this and that, depending on the leadership, but who has the foresight to continue? Cleveland Clinic started out strong in the community and as they made more profit, the community around them died. Is MetroHealth going to do the same thing? What’s their long term plan?”
Dr. Akram Boutros, President and CEO of MetroHealth, is the visionary behind the campus transformation plan. Boutros is a graduate of St. John’s University, SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program. In his six years as the President and CEO of MetroHealth, Boutros has galvanized political leaders, entrepreneurs and the public around supporting community-wide health care many had taken for granted, according to his bio.
In 2013, the same year Boutros was hired, the MetroHealth System received approval from federal officials to launch MetroHealth Care Plus program, the Medicaid expansion program that provides medical home and health coverage for up to 30,000 uninsured residents of Cuyahoga County.
By 2017, MetroHealth provided benefits for 36,173 new patients enrolled under the Medicaid expansion program, with an average yearly per capita rate reimbursement of $2,245.77, according to Dr. James Misak, Vice Chair of Community and Population Health, Department of Family Medicine, while giving Testimony to the Ohio House of Representatives Finance Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. As a result, MetroHealth received more than $81 million in Medicaid reimbursements for the year.
Providing affordable and market-rate housing and healthy food options to the Clark-Fulton neighborhood is part of the approach used by Dr. Boutros to sell his campus transformation plan. The project includes a new 10-story, 270 bed hospital; a new central utility plant; and a new parking garage
Zucca explained. “We have recently created a food pharmacy on our main campus as a pilot program where patients that are coming out from inpatient care that suffer from some nutritional needs, we are providing prescriptions to go to our food pantry to get a voucher for food,” he said. Information provided by MetroHealth spokesperson Tina Arundel indicates Citizens Bank and Mt. Sinai Health Foundation funded this Food as Medicine Clinic which is stocked by food from the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.
“We’re developing three mixed-use development projects including affordable housing project with 72 units, up to 100 units of housing for our medical residents, and provide 80 units of work force housing available to anyone in the community for people typically making around $70,000 a year per household,” said Zucca. A press release provided by MetroHealth indicates the housing units are being developed in partnership with The NRP Group, a national contractor that develops and manages apartments and a CCH Development Corporation, a nonprofit development corporation headed by MetroHealth CEO Akram Boutros.
The $60 million neighborhood redevelopment project is 6% of the MetroHealth campus transformation budget, which is expected to exceed $1 billion when completed in 2023.
But by providing children safe and stable housing, and reducing blight in the neighborhood, the hospital hopes to help prevent many health conditions caused by harmful physical and socioeconomic environments. Essentially, they are treating the neighborhood as a patient, suggested Zucca.
“Only 10% of your health outcomes are predicted by the actual health care you receive from a doctor or hospital, another 10% by your genetics and things you can’t control. But 70-80% of your health outcomes are predicted by your socioeconomic status and built environments,” he said.
Clark-Fulton resident Eden Le Bouton expressed concern about community volunteers, a potential cornerstone of the MetroHealth proposal. “It sounds good on paper,” she said, “but I want to know who’s going to train the people and citizens to volunteer to help?”
Tim Sklodowski doesn’t know how much his property taxes will increase because of the new housing development. “That’s what I’m concerned about, an increase in my property taxes. I’m also concerned about parking. Many MetroHealth clients park on the streets. They don’t want to pay parking fees. I like the idea of a public park though. I’m glad they’re doing things in the neighborhood.”
Ward 14 Councilwoman Jasmin Santana believes the MetroHealth plan will have a positive effect on her district but public dialogue is necessary. “It’s important to me that my residents have a voice at the table and that their needs are being represented,” she said.
When asked why she supports the MetroHealth initiative, she said, “I’m very excited that MetroHealth is investing not only on their campus but in their neighborhood addressing all the challenges that residents face around economic development, health, safety, and community development. MetroHealth is creating a community that is equitable for all. I envision a thriving community with healthy housing stock and an increase in workforce, and overall a safer community.”
On the final night of a two-week, fourth in a series of Phase I community outreach meetings held at the Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ on West 14th Street, several residents expressed their concerns that MetroHealth treat all of the people in the community with respect and concern, not just those living in the Clark-Fulton area. The possibility of a community-based retail plan drew positive reactions, as did the proposed 25-acre public green space, about half of MetroHealth’s current 52-acre main campus.
“I guess for the community as a whole it’s going to be nice for them. I stick to myself and enjoy my dogs, that’s about it,” said Gary Koenigsdorf, a resident living near the corner of Clark Ave and Fulton Road.
“The plan sounds extremely positive. I’m a teacher, so any kind of community outreach that’s helping to create opportunity is really a positive structure,” said Emilie Macek. “Hopefully, it’s as good as its sounds.”