Drive west on Interstate 90 from downtown Cleveland and you’ll zoom right past them — one medical center after another. These facilities certainly make emergency care and routine doctors visits easy, at least for residents of Bay Village, Westlake, Avon and Avon Lake.
But head south a bit to North Ridgeville and the I-480 corridor. Nothing.
That’s all about to change. In 2009, the EMH Regional Healthcare System purchased 33 acres of land in North Ridgeville. Located on the north side of Lorain Road, just east of the ramp to the Ohio Turnpike, the site is easy to see from both Interstate 480 and the turnpike.
On Jan. 1, 2014, EMH joined with University Hospitals. The ground-breaking was held this September on a new 50,300-square-foot health center, which is slated to open in summer of 2018. The UH North Ridgeville Health Center will offer a freestanding emergency department, outpatient laboratory services and primary and specialty-care physician services.
“This is a quickly growing area,” says Charlotte Wray, president of UH Elyria Medical Center. “On the southern corridor, there really was an absence of health care presence.”
It all began back in the early 2000s. “We knew then that health care was changing,” Wray says.
It used to be, says Wray, that you would drive at least 20 minutes to a hospital, fight for a parking spot in the garage (for which you had to pay) and then make your way through a maze of hallways to get to your destination. Sure, the care you received was good, but it certainly was not convenient.
It’s so much easier, notes Wray, “to go to a free-standing space that is close to where you live. It’s easy to park in a surface lot, walk through the front door and go see a doctor. These types of settings are very convenient to patients.”
Don Sheldon is a physician and also serves as the western region strategic adviser to University Hospitals. He calls the change in health care an “evolution” that has been driven both by shifting attitude and medical advances.
Sheldon describes the new model as “patient-centric.” The goal, he says, isn’t to attract patients in the suburbs and then funnel them downtown, but to provide as much care as possible locally.
If a patient needs very advanced medical care — say, a transplant — that will, of course, still be done in Cleveland. “But, more and more, with advances in medicine, we can do things not only at community hospitals, but even as outpatients,” he says. “You want to deliver as much service as you can as close to where the patient is as possible.”
Wray says that specific plans for the new center are not decided. There will be emergency care, lab services and primary care, but specialists are being discussed. “Digestive health makes a lot of sense,” she says, “and we know we’re going to have some sort of other specialty presence there. Those decisions are being finalized.”
Because the center sits on such a large parcel of land, Wray points out that there will be lots of room for expansion in the future, allowing the medical center to grow as the area around it does.
North Ridgeville Mayor David Gillock says the new facility is good for both the health of the city’s residents — and for the city’s financial health.
In 2000, the city had 22,338 residents. By 2015, that number had increased to 32,483 — and new housing developments continue to sprout up.
While the growth is good in many ways, it can also be a strain. “Our community is growing and our ambulance runs are getting more frequent,” Gillock says. “It will just really help our residents to have something very close.”
The way things are done now, ambulances take residents to hospitals in Elyria, Westlake, Fairview Park and other cities. The city has three ambulance crews and, occasionally, all three are on calls at the same time, meaning that North Ridgeville has to request help from another city.
With the new medical center, ambulance runs will be much shorter. “We’ll get our ambulances back in service much quicker,” Gillock says.
On the financial side, the news is equally good. Gillock says about 100 people will be employed at UH North Ridgeville Health Center, including many high-paying positions. “It’ll be a welcome tax revenue increase,” he says.
What residents will notice most, though, is how easy it will be to receive world-class medical care. “There will be a lot of services available,” Gillock says. “It’s a much welcomed health addition.”
As University Hospitals celebrates its 150-year anniversary, Wray points out that the mission continues to evolve. University Hospitals was founded in 1866 when community leaders were determined to improve medical care in the city. Its first location was a two-story wooden house in Cleveland that could only hold 20 patients.
Today, University Hospitals serves more than 1 million people a year at dozens of locations spread out across Northeast Ohio and beyond.
“The community where the patient lives is really paramount,” Wray says. “I think it’s why North Ridgeville Health Center has gone from a vision to a reality. We really want to keep patients close to home in a space that’s high-quality. It’s really what health care reform is about — the right care at the right location.”
A NURSE FIRST
Where there’s a will, there’s a Wray.
That’s true, at least, for Charlotte Wray, who began her career as a registered nurse and is now the president of UH Elyria Medical Center, which makes her the point person for the new UH North Ridgeville Health Center.
Wray grew up on Denise Drive in North Ridgeville, right behind the old Fisher’s Big Wheel. She attended grade school at St. Peter School just down the street and Elyria Catholic High School. She went on to receive her bachelor’s of science of nursing from the University of Akron through a partnership with Lorain County Community College.
Wray began her career as a critical care nurse at University Hospitals and then at Elyria Memorial Hospital, but she soon knew she wanted to do more. Help more. Accomplish more. So she went back to school.
Wray earned both her master of business administration and her master’s in nursing degree through online courses with the University of Phoenix. “I knew that I had to pursue a formal education if I wanted to make a difference and get credibility in the space,” she says.
Her nursing background, she says, allows her to see how a medical center operates from an on-the-ground perspective. “I think it’s pretty powerful when you have a clinician who can actually run a health care system,” Wray says.
For Wray, it’s the best of both worlds. “I always loved caring for patients and being part of the community’s health care system,” she says.
Wray, who now has three grown children, says it was not always easy to balance work and family life.
“You look back and you don’t know how you did it,” she says. “I love talking to people about going back to school. I just tell them, ‘Just sign up for one class and then sign up for another class.’ You just figure it out and you get it done.”
Despite her advanced degrees, Wray still views everything through a nurse’s eyes. “I’m a registered nurse when I wake up. I’m a registered nurse when I go to bed,” she says. “It affects every decision I make. I firmly believe that I use that training to make health care decisions every day.”