RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Ohio — On Thursday, University Hospitals announced it will be ending surgical, inpatient and emergency services in Richmond Heights and Bedford due to system-wide staffing shortages.
"I was surprised," said Vivian Hill, a longtime patient at UH Bedford Medical Center. "I was like, 'No that can't be happening.' But it's true."
Hill told News 5 she worries about the effects the discontinued services will have on elderly patients.
“They may not have transportation and it’s more convenient right here. It’s really needed here,” she said. “What if it’s really, really an emergency and you have to get there right quick? You’re taking 15 minutes of that person’s life when they could be right here.”
According to CEO Dr. Cliff Megerian, the medical centers were selected to be consolidated because the inpatient services were among the smallest and most under-utilized in the system. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, inpatient facilities were reduced to 14 beds each so employees could be redeployed elsewhere.
About 600 staff impacted at those locations will transition to other roles or hospitals within the system.
Megerian blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for the lack of staff.
“These are difficult times for healthcare," he said in a recorded message on YouTube. "Emerging from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are now facing a local and national workforce shortage that has an exceptionally significant impact on the nurses and other caregivers here.”
UH said it currently has 3,000 vacancies, including 900 nursing openings. It's the most unfilled positions in the health system's 150 year history.
“We have to rethink how we do care, so we can continue to deliver care in the community," said Dr. Paul Hinchey, the president of the community delivery network and the interim COO at UH.
He explained services cut from UH Bedford Medical Center will be transferred to UH Ahuja. Services from the UH Richmond Medical Center will move to UH Lake West. Both are about 5 miles from the original locations.
Inpatient, surgical and emergency departments on the East Side will be limited to UH Ahuja, Geauga, Lake West, TriPoint, Beachwood, Geneva and Conneaut.
Physician and ambulatory services will remain in place in both Bedford and Richmond Heights. The Behavioral Health unit at UH Richmond will also stay open.
"The most important part of what we do is care for the community through our primary care practices, in our specialty care practices. Those will remain in the community, those will stay at the same place," said Hinchey. "It will be the same providers, so people in the community can still see their physicians and their caregivers in the same location.
Additionally, UH plans to invest in new programs and establish wellness centers in the areas focusing on wellness and safety, maternal and child health, food security and workforce development.
"We want to emphasize staying in the community and keeping those day-to-day care opportunities in the community to focus more on the health and wellness of the community, detecting disease earlier, treating it earlier, and really reinvesting in the wellness portion of our care in those communities," Hinchey said.
He added that UH is also trying to address the workforce shortage by working with colleges and universities to promote healthcare careers, offer apprenticeships, tuition assistance and other incentives.
The surgical, inpatient and emergency services will end at Bedford and Richmond Heights on Aug. 12.
Bedford will now only have MetroHealth Hospital in its city.
The closest UH hospitals will be five miles away from both locations.
Megerian said that he hopes the disruption will be minimal for patients in those cities.
News 5 reached out to other area hospital systems to gauge how a nationwide labor shortage is affecting them.
MetroHealth said it is reviewing ways to alleviate stress on the workforce and has not had to make the cutbacks to patient care others are taking. A spokesperson added, the system's Cleveland Heights facility will be able to accommodate the needs of UH patients losing services.
The Cleveland Clinic said it is experiencing its own staffing challenges, but does not have plans for similar closures.