UH Bedford ER remains closed as the court battle continues
A Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge has pressed pause in a court case between University Hospitals and the city of Bedford sparked by the hospital system's decision to cut emergency and other services at UH Bedford.
UH discontinued inpatient, surgical and emergency services at the facility, on Blaine Avenue, on Friday, but the battle between the city and UH continued in a court hearing on Tuesday.
The city has called the cuts racial discrimination and redlining and last week filed a civil suit seeking monetary damages in excess of $95,000 plus attorney's fees, court records show.
During the Tuesday hearing, Judge Steven Gall decided to temporarily stop the legal proceedings until Sept. 20, according to the city of Bedford.
Judge Gall said he hopes the two parties can come to a resolution, according to a media release from the city. The parties will continue to discuss the services provided at the hospital during mediation.
The discontinuation of services weighs on Bedford Mayor Stanley Koci, who said he's concerned people might try to bring a loved-one to the now-shuttered emergency room, not realizing the ER is closed.
“Your loved one’s sick or hurt, and your first instinct [is], 'I've got to get them in the car and get them to the hospital,' and they pull up and [say], 'Hey, what’s going on?'” he said.
The legal dispute stems from a UH decision earlier this year to cut services at the UH Bedford and Richmond medical centers.
In July, UH announced it would cut inpatient, surgical and emergency services at the two centers on Aug. 12 because of staffing shortages exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The local physicians services available at the UH Bedford remain open, according to the hospital.
The day before the cuts were scheduled to take effect, the city of Bedford filed a motion seeking a restraining order that would have prevented UH from proceeding with the cuts.
Judge Gall rejected the motion, court records show. The hospital cut services as planned, according to a hospital spokesperson.
UH called the judge's decision to stay the court hearing "correct" and said the delay will ensure the claims will be litigated fully.
"Our top priority as a health system is to provide the safest, highest quality care for our patients, and the service changes at Bedford are consistent with that goal. We remain committed to the Bedford community and its health and well-being, and remind patients in the area that they are still able to see their physicians for appointments at the medical office buildings on-site," the statement read.
But city officials say they are particularly concerned that the service cuts are happening in a predominantly Black neighborhood with a large population of older residents — some of whom do not drive.
In the complaint, the city called the decision to close UH Bedford "redlining and racial discrimination at its best."
About 18% of Bedford’s population is over 65, and about 54% of the population is Black, according to U.S. Census data.
“Our population is very diverse, we have a large population of minority, the economically challenged and the elderly — three of our basic groups that are most impacted by health care,” Koci said.
The closure significantly limits "the range of healthcare and emergency medical services needed by the predominantly African American populations of Bedford and its neighboring communities," the motion argues. "UH's decision to close Bedford Hospital will exacerbate patient injuries and increase the morbidity and mortality rates of these populations. UH will create a healthcare desert in the southeast communities of Cuyahoga County."
Opinions among patients and those who live near the facility are mixed.
Bedford resident Peggy Hampton said while she’s not happy with the closure, she understands.
“I appreciate that it’s been here this long," she said. "But things change, and we have to adapt, and it’s hard when you’re used to something being convenient and now it’s taken away. It sort of takes a toll on you.”
Linda Stoffl, 83, who lives a few blocks from UH Bedford, said she sees UH doctors but has not been using the Bedford location, despite its convenient location.
“In the last couple months or so, it really went downhill," she said. "Maybe because they... knew already that it was going to close.”
Bedford's mayor said he shares that suspicion and wishes the plan to close had been communicated sooner so the city would have had more opportunity to try to attract another provider to take over operations.
"They should have contacted us months ago," he said. "If you're going to close a hospital, you don't decide on one day, 'Oh let's close it,' and the next day call us up saying, 'We're shut in 30 days.' That doesn't happen. They had to know at least a year in advance."
The emergency room services at UH Bedford moved 6.2 miles away to UH's Ahuja Medical Center, the hospital said. The ER at UH Richmond, on Chardon Road, shifted to UH Lake West, about 6.1 miles away.
Inpatient services will be available at UH Ahuja, UH Lake West, UH TriPoint and UH Geauga medical centers.
The parties have been in court-ordered mediation since the hospital closed down in August, according to court records. But so far both sides say they have come no closer to resolving their issues.
Bedford wants UH to reopen the emergency room and reestablish the laboratory and radiology department at the former hospital site.
Bedford City Manager Mike Mallis said the elderly people of Bedford have struggled to access services since the hospital closure in November.
“This a community hospital. A lot of individuals walk there to see their doctors," he said, adding that the city wants a long-term commitment from the hospital to provide those services.
For its part, the hospital said in a statement that Bedford patients are still able to see their physicians for some appointments at the UH Bedford hospital and the system will be introducing new wellness services based on community needs.
The parties will return to court on January 25.