[EDITOR'S NOTE — This story has been updated to correct that the Ohio Hospital Administration doesn't have the authority to reopen a hospital. Also, many health officials are looking at making space in nursing homes, hotels and college dormitories.]
YOUNGSTOWN — In preparation for potential overcrowding at hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic, local leaders are looking at the shuttered Northside Regional Medical Center as a potential option.
State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown reached out to Gov. Mike DeWine about the option.
Part of the former hospital at 500 Gypsy Lane now houses a medical group, Steward Primary Care. There are 350 beds and medical equipment available at the facility, which closed in September 2018, Lepore-Hagan said.
"We are all trying to find access to the Steward Medical Group to gain use of the facility if need be," Lepore-Hagan said.
DeWine's office notified Lepore-Hagan that he has forwarded the request to the Ohio Hospitals Association. While OHA does not have the authority to make the decision, the organization could provide support to move the process along.
Currently hospitals across the state are at about 75 percent capacity, which is normal for flu season, said Mike Abrams, Ohio Hospitals Association CEO. That also means a surge of coronavirus surge spread in Ohio could safely take up the remaining 25 percent with no extra action necessary.
"What I want is for the public to share my optimism that while this is a difficult situation, the health care infrastructure in this state is quite strong," he said.
Abrams added the association has heard of Ohio communities' plans to create more bed space by repurposing areas of nursing homes or hotels or by reopening closed hospitals.
Dr. James Kravec, the county health agency's medical director and chief clinical officer for Mercy Health, said local Mercy hospitals are "prepared for where we are" but continue to monitor availability.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said during the state’s daily coronavirus briefing Tuesday that ensuring Ohio hospitals have enough bed capacity or personal protective equipment to treat infected patients will be one of the state’s “big challenges” moving forward.
But reopening a closed facility like Northside wouldn't be a simple task.
"I don’t think it would just be a matter of going in to turn on the lights," John Palmer, spokesperson of the Ohio Hospitals Association, told Mahoning Matters.
It would also be necessary to access equipment needs and sanitize and staff the facility, Palmer said. Health officials are also considering making space in hotels, nursing homes and college dormitories.
Ryan Tekac, Mahoning County health commissioner, said during a Tuesday media briefing there's yet "no answer" as to whether Northside could be re-opened and said he was unsure about plans to re-utilize other buildings in the area to increase treatment capacity.