Health in the Mahoning Valley
Quilian Riano and Kristen Zeiber examine economic development models centered on healthcare institutions.
Part I: Mapping Health
GROWTH AMID CONTRACTION
In the years between 2002 and 2017, total employment in the Mahoning Valley fell by 12.8 percent, while local healthcare employment grew by 8.3 percent.
After 89 years serving the city of Youngstown, the Northside Medical Center hospital closed in 2018, causing a loss of 468 jobs. There is discussion of reusing the facility for veterans’ services, but a new VA hospital under construction in the city renders this possibility unlikely.
The closure of Northside Medical Center was countered with the growth of many smaller medical providers in Youngstown’s southern and eastern suburbs, for an overall growth in the healthcare industry in the Valley.
ANCHORS & CONSOLIDATION
Steward, a for-profit system, shrank its Youngstown presence when its Northside hospital closed in 2018. The system retains primary care and family care facilities throughout the Mahoning Valley, including two hospitals in Trumbull County: Trumbull Regional Medical Center and the Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital, both in Warren.
Mercy Health, which operates healthcare facilities throughout Ohio, runs St. Elizabeth, the only hospital remaining within the city of Youngstown. As part of the Healthcare Anchor Network, Mercy has a strong community benefits agreement for the Mahoning Valley, with an expanded focus on working with local stakeholders to address larger community health indicators.
ACCESS & EQUITY
Residents of Youngstown and Warren are more likely to be both poor and non-white than their neighbors in surrounding Mahoning and Trumbull Counties.
The Western Reserve Transit Authority (WRTA) recently expanded its bus system to include more routes and run more frequently, but gaps in service remain, particularly at night and on weekends. For residents of urban Warren and Youngstown—disproportionately minority populations—it can be difficult to reach suburban health facilities outside of regular business hours.
Mercy Health’s Boardman Hospital, south of Youngstown, is the region’s only full OB/GYN facility in the wake of the Northside Hospital closure. Located in a southern suburb, the facility is not currently served by WRTA access, leaving expectant mothers without a car unable to reach it by public transit. Redundancy in a relatively small region may be economically unrealistic, but consolidation risks leaving less-mobile residents without equal access.
Part II: On the Role of Health Anchors in Helping Build Community
In 2008 the Cleveland Foundation, the City of Cleveland government, the Ohio Employee Ownership Center at Kent State University, and The Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland, College Park, helped form the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative.
This initiative was developed alongside some of the most important health anchor institutions in the area, the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals. Modeled after the worker-owned cooperatives under the Mondragon Corporation in the Basque region of Spain, the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative was designed to take advantage of the economic prowess of the local health anchors to create ownership and training opportunities for local low-skill and low-income workers. The Cooperative’s workers now collectively own a solar energy company, a laundry, and an urban farming operation, all built primarily to serve the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals. In short, this project seeks to reshape economic relationships, with the specific goal of making local big institutions players in the evolution of their neighborhoods and cities.
Since this first cooperative (and experiment with anchor institution responsibility) in Cleveland, the Democracy Collaborative has kept moving the concept of the anchor institution forward, and in 2016 created the Healthcare Anchor Network. The hospital Mercy Health Youngstown has now joined the network, along with over 50 other members.
The network serves as a place for hospitals and health systems to better understand their role in their communities and to adopt what the Democracy Collaborative terms the Anchor Mission, defined as “A commitment to consciously apply the long-term, place-based economic power of the institution, in combination with its human and intellectual resources, to better the long-term welfare of the communities in which the institution is anchored.”
The goal is for health institutions to take a holistic approach to working within a community, considering place-based issues integral to the health of the community, and thus the institution. This strategy includes economic indicators, but also quality of life and built-environment issues.
In the diagram below, it is clear that the Democracy Collaborative’s vision for what anchor institution–leveraged funding can create includes new housing, public building investment, and infrastructural and urban design improvements. This offers a role for architects, landscape architects, urban designers, and others to play as part of a comprehensive approach to community wellbeing.
While there is no definitive proof yet that the Healthcare Anchor Network and its affiliates will be able to fulfill its vision, there is hope in Youngstown for this model.