Experts: $275M downtown hospital impact on Springfield significant

By Matt Sanctis- Staff Writer 

The costs and complexities of building a hospital downtown made it a risk, but five years later local experts said Springfield Regional Medical Center has spurred other investments and served as a centerpiece of revitalization efforts.
The large sliding glass doors at the $275 million hospital’s entrance opened for the first time on Nov. 13, 2011, combining two former medical centers. It’s one of the few communities of its size nationwide to build a new medical center in a densely populated urban downtown.

Five years later, several local leaders said the project has paid off with improved medical care, job growth downtown and millions of dollars in new investment that might not have otherwise occurred. They also said it has had challenges, including moving some administrative jobs out of Clark County and a recession that likely hindered further development in the area surrounding the hospital.

It’s not clear if major projects like the NTPRD Chiller Ice Arena, a new brewery and a renovated artist studio would have moved forward if the hospital had located outside the city’s core, said Randy Kapp, president of Kapp Construction.

Kapp, along with a few friends, started a grassroots effort that eventually pulled in local businesses, churches and politicians to convince hospital leaders to build in downtown. “It was a catalyst for a lot of other development in that area, and I don’t think we’ve seen all of it because we went through an economic downturn that severely affected real estate development,” he said. “It’s just now coming back around.”

Kapp, who has since undergone a quadruple bypass at Springfield Regional, said he can speak for the hospital’s service firsthand. “I didn’t think twice about where I would have it done at because I knew they were good.” Kapp said.

Taking a risk

The hospital is the result of a merger between the former Community Hospital on East High Street and Mercy Medical Center on Fountain Boulevard and their many related facilities.
They merged in 2004 to form Community Mercy Health Partners, which became the largest single employer in Clark County with about 2,400 workers in the region. Community Mercy remained part of Mercy Health, the largest nonprofit health system in Ohio and fourth-largest employer in the state.

The primary goal of joining together was to build a new hospital, which otherwise likely wouldn’t have been possible, said Paul Hiltz, who recently announced his retirement as president and CEO of CMHP.
But early on, it became apparent Community Mercy leaders likely wanted to build that new hospital along I-70, said Mike Calabrese, executive director of Opportunities for Individual Change in Clark County. The nonprofit’s provides job training and other services to fight poverty and unemployment in Clark County. “Our concern was it looked like it was a foregone conclusion because they had done so much preliminary work off I-70,” Calabrese said. “They were talking like they were looking at both places, but they weren’t doing anything in terms of pre-construction in the city. They were doing pre-construction in terms of surveys and things like that out in the county.”

That led Calabrese, Kapp and Dean Blair, now director of the Clark County Fairgrounds, to form a downtown hospital coalition that hosted community meetings and eventually convinced hospital officials to put the project downtown. At one point, supporters posted more than 2,000 yard signs throughout the city to make residents more aware of the issue, Calabrese said.
It’s rare for a new hospital to be built in a downtown urban area for a variety of reasons, said Tom Loftis, a co-founder of Midland Properties. The business was tasked with the complex effort to buy dozens of private properties near Buck Creek to make room for the new Springfield Regional.

Most new hospital projects take place in undeveloped land that’s often outside a city’s limits, Loftis said. Those projects are easier because it usually involves working with a significantly smaller number of property owners.
“It was certainly a higher risk location to develop and could have been tied up for years in acquisitions … That’s why the greenfield development is so popular today in many areas because I can go out and pick up a 20-acre parcel up from one person,” Loftis said. “To get 20 acres in an urban area, you might have 100 houses, so that’s 100 different negotiations.”
In this case he said it included about 35 acres with 235 properties.

But advocates saw the downtown location as critical not just to adding new jobs within the city, but to improving access to care at a central location for residents and spurring new development.
“It’s been widely successful in terms of what we wanted to accomplish,” Calabrese said. “They moved it into an area that was blighted, they were able to give homeowners a fair price for their houses and they cleared essentially 40 acres of undesirable housing.”

Improving care

Chris and Gretchen Zinkhon of Urbana returned to the hospital earlier this month with their son Hayden, now 5. Hayden was born on Nov. 12, 2011, at Community Mercy’s former High Street campus.
But the family recovered at the then brand new Springfield Regional Medical Center, making them the hospital’s first official patients.

After five years, one detail Chris Zinkhon said he won’t forget was entering the new building’s front entrance where two floors full of employees stood and applauded. The hospital also recorded a video of the moment, which has since occasionally played in the hospital’s lobby. “We still have people come up to us and say they saw us on TV,” Chris Zinkhon said. Since then, Springfield Regional has had more than 73,000 admissions and more than 376,000 visits to its Emergency Department.

CMHP has steadily worked to add services and improve care since the hospital opened, Hiltz said. Most recently, Community Mercy and Wittenberg announced a partnership that could lead to new academic programs, as well as additional services for staff members and students at the university, as well as community members.

Springfield Regional Medical Center earned three out of five stars earlier this year on its Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services federal scorecard. Mercy Memorial Hospital in Urbana, part of CMHP, earned four stars.
The new hospital has also made it easier to recruit specialists, Hiltz said. Springfield Regional recently recruited three new cardiologists and three new general surgeons, which he said would likely have been impossible in either of the older facilities.

Hiltz pointed out that the hospital’s cardiac surgery program was recently rated as one of the best heart surgery programs in the U.S. The hospital also received accreditation as a Chest Pain Center last year, meaning it meets higher standards in treating heart attack patients. The next step, Hiltz said, will be to partner with the Clark County Combined Health District and local businesses to find opportunities to be more proactive in addressing health care issues facing area residents. “The health care in this community would have gone backward instead of what it’s done, which is gone very much forward,” Hiltz said. “To be able to recruit doctors, nurses and other technical specialists, it’s imperative that they have great technology and equipment.”

Some challenges remain

The hospital has had a significant economic impact on Springfield since its completion, said retired U.S. Rep. Dave Hobson, who said he and other local leaders would have refused to support the project if it had been located along the highway. It also helped push more investment downtown that wouldn’t have occurred if it had been located off I-70, he said.

While he stressed the project has been a success, Hobson was critical of decision to consolidate some administration and other services at the company’s corporate headquarters in Cincinnati.
“I continue to be extremely concerned about the management from Cincinnati,” he said. “I don’t think they really care about Springfield. Even with the Mercy of the old days and Community Hospital, there was more of an understanding of our community and there were a lot more services that were done in our town. Those have been stripped out and moved to Cincinnati and that has somewhat in my opinion hurt us.”

Being part of Mercy Health, the largest health-care system in the state, is that it provides more efficiencies by centralizing functions like finance and billing, Community Mercy Spokesman Dave Lamb said. Many of those services were centralized in 2010 before the new medical center opened, he said. 

“We can focus more of our resources on care and services for the community … Without the backing of Mercy Health, we wouldn’t have been able to build our $250 million state-of-the-art hospital in Springfield,” Lamb said. “Our community benefits in other ways from Mercy Health, such as the recent $1 million commitment to SpringFORWARD to help revitalize downtown Springfield.”
Hobson said he remains hopeful for the future and stressed that Hiltz has led Springfield Regional in a positive direction. “It’s been a successful move,” Hobson said. “It’s been successful for our town, it’s helped revitalize parts of our town and it’s still attracting large numbers of people.”

Local business leaders like Loftis and Kapp also said they initially expected more development in the area surrounding the hospital, including new office space for physicians. But that hasn’t materialized for a variety of reasons, they said, including a crippling recession and a lack of demand for new office space among area physicians.

Community Mercy also abandoned plans for a $14 million medical office building on its campus near Buck Creek, citing financial concerns and the availability of other office space in the area.

But it’s possible more development could occur in the future. “You’d have to be a pretty bold person to be totally optimistic that the medical office buildings will be going in because there’s been so much turmoil,” Loftis said. “The market needs to just settle down and we need to get some realistic interest rates and we’ll see how things shake out over the next four or five years.”
Spurring investment

Aside from access to health care, perhaps the biggest benefit to developing the hospital downtown was revitalizing a neighborhood that was seen as declining, said Mike McDorman, president and CEO of the Chamber of Greater Springfield.
“We chose as a community to focus on downtown,” McDorman said. “They were the catalyst for the development you see in our downtown today and will hopefully continue as we begin looking at these abandoned buildings and start reusing them to bring people to live downtown, as well as the opportunity for retail and restaurants.” 

Hiltz has also been active in the community, including serving as co-chairman of SpringFORWARD, a nonprofit formed to revitalize downtown Springfield. Matthew Caldwell, who will take over at the helm of Community Mercy, has also pledged to remain committed to SpringFORWARD.

More than $400 million has been invested in the city’s core, including the hospital, new high-end apartments on East Main Street, a $500,000 project to create artist studios, Ohio Valley Surgical Hospital, renovations to the Bushnell Building, the new ice rink and several other projects.

Many of the properties that were bought out to make way for the hospital were rental properties with little incentive to draw new investment, Loftis said. Without the hospital project, it’s possible the area could have deteriorated further. “We would have had a 40-acre parcel there that would have continued to decline close to downtown and that would have deterred private reinvestment in the area,” Loftis said.

In-depth coverage

The Springfield News-Sun provides unmatched coverage of issues that affect health and the economy in Clark and Champaign counties. For this story, the newspaper spoke to local politicians, businesses and residents about the impact the Springfield Regional Medical Center has had over its first five years downtown.

Springfield Regional Medical Center by the numbers:

6,096 — Total deliveries in five years
73,461 — Total admissions
376,172 — Emergency visits
9,934 —Inpatient surgeries
10,009 —Outpatient surgeries
Source: Community Mercy Health Partners