Massillon city leaders continue the charge to revive the now shuttered Affinity Medical Center.
In the month since the century-old hospital closed its doors for good, city leaders have sent more than three dozen letters to hospital and medical groups across the region in the hopes of luring in a new long-term partner to take over the expansive facility.
Affinity’s parent company, Quorum Health, shut the hospital down earlier this year, citing several consecutive years of unprofitability. The hospital, which employed roughly 800 people, provided full service healthcare to western Stark County. The medical center ceased operations entirely in mid-February.
By that point, however, a deal had already been reached between the city of Massillon and Quorum Health. The corporation would deed the entire property and medical equipment inside the hospital to the city. The estimated value of the deal is $25 million. The property will be under city control by the end of March.
“We’ve dealt with the closing. Now we need to move forward, and that’s where our staff is focused,” said Mayor Kathy Catazaro-Perry. “When I see the property, I see opportunity… I see a wonderful opportunity to find the right partner to come into the city. I think that’s a wonderful opportunity. We’re looking for a long-term partner.”
Mayor Catazaro-Perry, a registered nurse herself, said she understands the complexities and intricacies involved with running a hospital. She believes the market is certainly ripe for an interested party to invest and revive the hospital. She and other city leaders have sent roughly 40 memos to medical groups and companies in order to gauge interest in the property.
She said there has been some interest and positive feedback.
“We want to have the capability of having a full hospital. Maybe it’s not going to be the same size as it once was, but still having inpatient beds, still having cardiovascular services, a general [operating room], those things are important to western Stark County,” the mayor said. “It is for the welfare of our residents, and not just Massillon residents, but western Stark County. I keep saying western Stark County, because it is important not just for our city."
Mayor Catazaro-Perry said the healthcare-related implications of the hospital closing is her number one priority, with the economic impact being second. With the hospital closed, patients with urgent needs or serious trauma are now several minutes away from the closest emergency room. That time is incredibly important," she said.
“I am not going to rest until we have a hospital on that property,” the mayor said.
Early estimates put the price tag of reviving the property in the millions. The IT alone would be more than $5 million, officials said. However, Mayor Catazaro-Perry said healthcare companies go into acquisitions knowing those costs up front.
“It may sound new to us, but they’re used to that. That’s part of the complexity of running a hospital. I don’t think it’s anything insurmountable,” the mayor said. “I think those hospitals will engage and understand that piece. You do have to invest. I think they understand that, so I don’t think it’s a hurdle that we can’t overcome.”
While Affinity’s closure has undoubtedly affected the city and surrounding communities, it also brought some unexpected donations for a Canton-area homeless shelter.
The Total Living Center, a non-profit organization that helps feed and clothe the homeless and destitute, received an estimated $30,000 in food, utensils and other supplies when the hospital closed. The items came directly from Affinity’s food service department.
“A lot of that was food, which we already gave away or used. Food doesn’t hang around here very long,” Pastor Don Bartow said with a grin. “We take no government money and we’re not supported by United Way. We depend entirely on donations.”
The organization offers a hot meal to the poor and homeless every single day. There is also a large clothing bank, among other services, that the non-profit provides.
Benefiting from Affinity’s closure is bittersweet, Pastor Bartow said. He’s thankful that his organization was written into Affinity’s will.
“I regret Affinity closing, because we need all the health spots we can get in the county,” Bartow said. “Since it closed, I’m glad they remembered us… and gave it to us to help people.”