A 2016 report by the Youngstown/Warren Chamber of Commerce shows that five out of the top ten labor sectors in the area are in health. As industrial jobs leave the area, that number is only increasing. Hospitals are expanding and new schools of nursing are opening.1Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Youngstown/Warren Metropolitan Profile, 2016, p. 7.
An hour’s drive to the north, the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospital systems have demonstrated how healthcare providers can become reliable anchor institutions for economic and urban development. For example, the employee-owned Evergreen Cooperatives, a successful grassroots economic development initiative, relies on this “anchor” institution model for its financial stability.
In 2015, Ted Howard, the president and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative, a group that played a key role in setting up these Cleveland-based cooperatives, said this about the role of health anchor institutions:
By adopting an anchor mission, healthcare institutions and systems can produce measurably beneficial impacts on individual and community health, and by so doing, lower preventable demand on the healthcare system. The result is a win-win: refocused hospital business practices and operations produce conditions in which citizens and communities become healthier. This prevents avoidable demand on the health system, which in turns lowers costs and makes care more affordable for those truly in need. Healthcare professionals call this “moving from volume to value,” a process in which hospitals are rewarded for improving health, rather than delivering more care.2Howard, Ted. “Can Hospitals Heal America’s Communities?” The Democracy Collaborative. See source.
The Democracy Collaborative is now seeking to bring this vision to other communities with its Healthcare Anchor Network. The network counts Mercy Hospital, the largest healthcare institution in the Youngstown–Warren region, as a member.
This health anchor network approach is a hopeful, but as of yet not fully proven, strategy, and one the Mahoning Valley hopes to successfully embrace. The region has experienced significant closures and consolidations of healthcare facilities in recent years. In Warren stands the abandoned St. Joseph Riverside Hospital, closed in 1996 after population loss led to the merging of healthcare institutions. The large building is now a vandalized, dilapidated eyesore. After years of dereliction, the community is still actively looking for funds to demolish the building and reuse the land.
Just down the Mahoning River, the Northside Regional Medical Center in Youngstown was closed by the for-profit Steward Health Care system in 2017 due to not meeting profit expectations. Although there are plans to lease out space within the now-vacant building, the neighborhood has noticed the hospital’s absence, as hundreds of doctors and nurses have left to find work in other areas.
We begin our look at health in the region with a series of maps, graphics, and quotes from local stakeholders, introducing the growth, consolidation, and accessibility of healthcare institutions in the Mahoning Valley. They are followed by an essay that looks in more detail at the Democracy Collaborative’s Healthcare Anchor Network initiative and its hopeful economic model. —Quilian Riano, In the Mahoning Valley chief editor and Kristen Zeiber, In the Mahoning Valley mapping/graphics editor