MEDINA – Could MetroHealth be the answer to Dennis Hanwell’s prayers?

After Cleveland Clinic decided to close its maternity unit at Medina Hospital July 1, 2017 – a decision that led to public outcry – Hanwell said he felt “betrayed and abandoned,” while vowing he would continue to seek viable alternatives to fill a void he ranks in his top three biggest issues he would like to solve as mayor of the city of Medina.

It would appear Hanwell got the break he was looking for, thanks to a new state law, House Bill 111, that includes a small amendment specifically, yet vaguely, allowing The MetroHealth System, of Cuyahoga County, to operate inpatient services in eight different counties, Medina included.

“I’m a man of faith. I’ve been praying and looking for opportunities, struggling to make something happen,” Hanwell said. “I’m just so thankful and appreciative that MetroHealth was at least willing to listen to us, to work with us, instead of just saying ‘we can’t help you’.”

Publicly-funded hospitals are prohibited from operating inpatient facilities outside of their home jurisdictions, but in the case of MetroHealth – Cuyahoga County’s hospital that is partially supported by its county’s tax dollars – the language of the amendment is worded in a way, while there is no mention of MetroHealth, that now allows public hospitals in charter counties to do so, but only in counties bordering other charter counties.

A charter county, according to Ohio Revised Code, is one operating under a constitutional government that does not possess home rule powers and can only act under what is authorized by the Ohio General Assembly.

Since Cuyahoga and Summit are the only two charter counties in the state and share a border, this means MetroHealth can now open up shop in Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage, Stark, Summit and Wayne. No other county hospital in the state qualifies under this provision.

The bill easily passed the state House and Senate, as well as signed by the governor, with some controversy. A lengthy Aug. 12 report by Courtney Astolfi suggested the law was passed “without public awareness” and with minimal discussion on either floor.

“That’s absolutely incorrect,” said Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof, a Montville Township Republican whose home district includes all of Medina County. “The language was out there for the better part of two months.”

The law, however, came to fruition with heavy lobbying from Hanwell. Leading up to this point, Hanwell had several meetings with health care providers in Medina County apart from Cleveland Clinic “after it was obvious they had made up their minds,” including Summa and University Hospitals. Both weren’t interested in opening a maternity unit here.

“So I reached out to MetroHealth,” Hanwell said. “I sent an email up there and within a half hour I heard back.”

Hanwell said officials at MetroHealth explained to him the state’s restrictions; so then he turned to Obhof and state Rep. Stephen Hambley, a Republican from Brunswick who serves more than half of Medina County.

With the state assembly’s summer recess looming, and a then-vacancy of a speaker seat in the House that has since been filled, Hanwell urged legislators to push the MetroHealth measure through. It ended up being a 303-word bit in a bill short-titled “Authorize nurses to compel mental health evaluations.” It was co-sponsored by dozens of House reps.

“I kept pleading with them, ‘You’ve got to get this squared away and get it moving’,” Hanwell said. “Once they got a speaker, they got it to the floor and voted on it pretty quickly. Then it went to the governor’s office and got signed.”

Obhof said his involvement “was somewhat limited.”

“As you know, we don’t have a birthing center in Medina County anymore. The mayor was active in reaching out to hospital systems seeing if they were interested in opening one,” Obhof said. “I don’t know if Dennis (Hanwell) initiated this conversation or if MetroHealth reached out.”

Hanwell confirmed he initiated the talks. MetroHealth spokeswoman Tina Arundel said her system has “received requests from people asking us to fill service gaps” and it is currently “evaluating five different locations” now that the law is signed. Hanwell believes Medina is among MetroHealth’s top considerations. Arundel added Cuyahoga tax dollars would not go toward any MetroHealth venture outside of its home jurisdiction.

“Our mission compels us to help everybody,” Arundel said. “It’s just really exciting for us that we’re able to expand our reach now.”

Since Cleveland Clinic closed its Medina maternity unit, it left expectant mothers from Medina County and beyond having to travel upwards of 20-40 miles to deliver at other northeast Ohio facilities, an issue of grave concern to Hanwell, who doubles as the city of Medina’s safety director. The Clinic, however, recently invested nearly $6 million at Medina Hospital in beefing up emergency services, something both Hanwell and Obhof expressed gratitude for.

With a countywide population of about 178,000 and being the 10th-fastest growing county in the state – and the undisputed fastest-growing in northern Ohio, as well as the 16th most populous statewide – Hanwell finds the lack of maternity services here to be “problematic.”

“It needed to be corrected,” Hanwell said. “It’s important to mention … in all of my conversations (with MetroHealth), our immediate void and need is maternity, but we are not restricting them to just maternity. If there are other things they want to provide here, that’s a good thing.”

Hanwell sees this issue as one of equal importance to economic development: attracting young families to live here, saying “they might be reluctant” to do so without solid maternity services.

Obhof agrees.

“We tend to have pretty good health care overall in Medina County ... but competition is good,” Obhof said. “Additional opportunities for health care delivery is good. That’s up to them what they do. The question for us as legislators is should we increase these opportunities? The answer is yes.”

Asked what the next move is in possibly bringing MetroHealth to Medina County, Hanwell said he is working with the Medina County Health Department to provide statistics and data to MetroHealth supporting the need for a maternity unit.

“We’re methodically trying to get them the information they need to move forward,” Hanwell said.