By Mark C. Peyko | Metro Monthly Editor
• Authors Staughton and Alice Lynd will discuss their memoirs at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 6, 2009 as part of the Universal Café’s Arts and Lecture Series. The event occurs at the First Unitarian Church in Youngstown.
Attys. Alice and Staughton Lynd recently published “Stepping Stones: Memoir of a Life Together,” a book that recounts their work as long-time activists in the Mahoning Valley and across the United States.
Over the years, the Lynds have taken on a number of unpopular and thorny causes – many times well ahead of the public’s awareness of or tolerance for an issue.
The Metro Monthly recently spoke with Staughton Lynd about the couple’s recent book, their lifetime commitment to social activism, and the dangers of voicing sometimes unpopular opinions.
Metro Monthly: What made you decide to want to write the book?
Atty. Staughton Lynd: Well, it’s hard to say. I’m 79, Alice will be 79 in a little less than two months. And so if there is any kind of summing up, it seemed like a good time to do it.
Metro Monthly: What do you hope readers may learn from reading about your experiences and Alice’s experiences?
Lynd: Well, a couple of things. One is to keep going. It was an observation of mine that in the sixties, we had an awful lot of sprinters and not too many long-distance runners. And I think [laughs] people may say Alice and I ran in the wrong direction or that we lost all the fights that we entered – but I don’t agree with either of those.
But one thing we have done is to keep going, so that was a general motivation.
But more specifically, I have a feeling that a lot of folks with liberal or radical ideas wind up on the West or East Coast. You know, they’re in San Francisco, or Cambridge, or New York City. And we wanted to make a plea that people who think they are pursuing a profession that’s of some use – I’m sure you feel this way, we felt that way as lawyers – take a look at the Youngstowns of this world. The medium-sized cities in-between the two coasts. And the particular term we used for what we had in mind was something we ran into on trips to Latin America. We learned of Archibishop Romero – in this case talking to Catholics – who had said that “People with a professional training should accompany those who might have need for their services.” Instead of spending all your time in an endless exchange of ideas in some rarefied university, just get out on the streets and see if you can be helpful to ordinary people.
Metro Monthly: I’ve always wondered that about you and your wife. Actually, that was one of my questions, too. But I think we should back up a little bit. Could you tell us a little bit about what brought you to Youngstown?
Lynd: Yes. I was in a funny situation at the end of the sixties, because I had chosen the profession of history. My wife was doing early childhood education and each of us ran into a roadblock. But in my case, it was being so outspoken against the war in Vietnam that I couldn’t continue as a full-time history teacher. And in Alice’s case, a lot of the funding for Head Start and early childhood education dried up in the early seventies.
Metro Monthly: O.K.
Lynd: And so we kind of looked the world over and decided to take a shot at becoming lawyers and being lawyers together and, specifically, we had been doing some oral history with steelworkers and others in the south Chicago/northern Indiana areas. The same part of the world, actually, where President Obama did his community organizing.
And one thing we ran into was the unionized industrial worker who felt he was being worked over by the employer and not getting much help from the union and was left to fight for himself. And so we had this specific project: maybe we could be lawyers to help that kind of person and, as you know very well, there are quite a few of them in the Mahoning Valley. And so, while in law school in Chicago, . . . we learned of some steelworkers in Youngstown. They worked at the old Brier Hill mill, Local 1462.
Metro Monthly: Frame this a bit. What year was this, which decade?
Lynd: This was the first half of the 1970s. I was going to law school – ’73, ’76. The question is: Where are we going to go when we get out of law school? And so we ran into these steelworkers and they were pretty broad-gauged guys. You know, they were into combatting racial discrimination in the mill and in the community. They were civil libertarians, they were concerned with peace and I figured, you know, this is the kind of person that I think I’m looking for.
I’m going to put my chips on these couple of guys and their friends in Youngstown, Ohio. And so we moved here in ’76 with that in mind and we’ve never looked back. They’re both dead now [the workers], John [Barbero] and Ed [S. Mann], and others whom we met. And I would add someone we met after we moved here, and is also now deceased, an electric utility lineman named Robert Schindler.
Metro Monthly: But when you came here, you’re coming right at the time when the mills started closing down.
Lynd: . . . It was GF [General Fireproofing] that first fall, if you remember. They had broken ground for a new plant here in Youngstown. There was a strike. The company canceled its plans and began to move out. They moved to Tennessee. And then, beginning in ’77, came every year a major steel mill closing.
Metro Monthly: A lot of people undergo career changes, but you underwent a career change where you were actually looking at controlling not only your destiny, but also really channeling your energy into something that reflected your values and your interests and your political views and everything else. . . .
You’ve had social activism and involvement in politics probably prior to the Vietnam War, but I’m just wondering what the roots of your social activism are and also your wife’s roots, too.
Lynd: Well, I would say in each case probably our parents. Not that we were carbon copies, but, for example, my dad had been to divinity school and between his first and second year at Union Theological Seminary, he was a volunteer summer preacher at a Rockefeller oil camp in Wyoming.
And he picked up the impression that the men who were working six days a week for Mr. Rockefeller were not excited about this handsome young man from the East who would spend his week visiting their wives. And so my father got a job as a pick-and-shovel laborer and preached in the schoolhouse Sunday night. And, you know, you have that kind of dad and it rubs off.
Metro Monthly: When people are socially active, do you see it as one event that may trigger an interest or is it upbringing, or maybe the culmination of a series of events? Or maybe a little of each sometimes?
Lynd: Well, I probably think people take different roads. In my case, there’s just no doubt my parents influenced me and then when I met Alice, she was a little more into an anti-war tradition than I had been exposed to. . . .
And one experience just built on the next for us and that’s why we call our memoirs “Stepping Stones,” because I don’t know it you’re a hiker, but sometimes you’re out in the woods, you come to a stream. There’s no bridge and so you make the way from one rock to the next, never knowing whether the rock is going to turn under your ankle or not. And we kind of used that as a metaphor for our lives.
Metro Monthly: I think when people are driven by causes, social justice and things like that, there’s resistance and disappointment. What do you consider your most educational disappointment?
Lynd: [laughs] Well, that’s fascinating. And I would say it was probably when – in the early sixties – I was a teacher at a college for African-American women in Atlanta called Spelman College. And on the strengths of my history writing I got invited to Yale University, which is you know like one of these movies where the guy is pitching in the cactus league and he gets a call from the Cleveland Indians.
And so I went to Yale, and what happened when I was there was that the Vietnam War escalated. I made a very controversial trip to Hanoi. And for the first time in my life, something that I assumed would be a good thing – namely getting a lifetime position at Yale University – was denied me.
And I think that was the best favor I could have received because as a lawyer in Youngstown, Ohio – a kid who grew up in New York City, son of two college professors, you know – I didn’t have much in common in the way of life experience with steelworkers, and, more recently, prisoners. But as a lawyer, that was like an invitation card. I was able to meet folks that I would have never met otherwise, so I’m very thankful [laughs] to Yale University. What did you call it, a creative disappointment?
Metro Monthly: The disappointment you found most educational.
Lynd: Well, that was it.
Metro Monthly: Getting back to the book. How long did it take to write? And I wondered about the process of doing the book. I’m sure you and your wife talked about life and work experiences.
Lynd: There had been various dry runs going back to the early nineties, I would say. I remember drafting something with a number of separate chapters, but it kind of got into high gear when Alice and I decided we were going to do this together, which is how we’ve done some of our best work.
I would say [there was] another critical point. We have three children and . . . we read our draft aloud to Martha [our youngest daughter]. And it was interesting, because things we took for granted about the 1960s, for instance, we had the feeling ‘Well, everybody knows that’ . . . and Martha would say ‘What’s that, mom and dad? I never heard that before.’ So we tried to revise in such a way that a young person today who didn’t share any of those experiences would have some clue what we were talking about.
Metro Monthly: Considering your political views and social activism, I just take for granted that there are people who disagree with you or hate your ideas. How do you deal with that in your work, when you come against someone who is so dead against what your views are?
Lynd: That’s a very good question and I need to explain [that] Alice and I are Quakers. And we’re believers in non-violence. And that’s not just a question of marching in the street with a picket sign . . . but also how you treat people who to all appearances are antagonists.
For example, in 2001, Alice and I spearheaded a class-action lawsuit about conditions of confinement at Ohio’s first Super Maximum Security Prison here in Youngstown.
And I’m here to tell you that the lawyers for the state of Ohio were initially very hostile, very suspicious. And we have a relationship of trust with those people now. I won’t go into details because I don’t want anything to happen to these understandings, but I think they feel we can help them do their job. In other words, if there’s something festering out there at the Ohio State Penitentiary – maybe something between blacks and whites or something between the prisoners in a particular cell block and certain officers, it’s in the interests of the warden to know about it and I think there have sometimes been instances where we could bring things to their attention, which we had heard from prisoners.
Well, not snitching on anyone individually, but just saying ‘Warden, we think maybe there is a problem out in the cellblock, perhaps someone could look into it.’ And that’s an example of taking a relationship which you’d think, at first glance, ‘Boy, oh boy, they should be hostile toward one another.’ The guy’s trying to run a prison filled with people they consider very dangerous, and the ACLU lawyer is trying to improve conditions, but it just so happens that I think we’ve created a pretty trusting and cordial relationship with our lawyer counterparts on the other side.
Metro Monthly: In evaluating your work, do you measure it by progress or do you see it as a series of challenges that may or not be related?
Lynd: Well, that’s a question that a person asks himself or herself. I would have to honestly say that most of the ventures in to which I put a lot of energy have not proved permanent. It doesn’t mean they didn’t accomplish anything, but as organizations or institutions, they’re no longer here.
And you could look at that and say, ‘Well, the guy didn’t get anything done.’ But, you know, an African-American was just elected president of the United States, a black man was just elected mayor of Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three summer volunteers were killed in 1964. And I was the co-ordinator of so-called Freedom School that summer [in 1964]. I was a part of opening up the world for maybe 2,000 African-American youngsters in that state. So I think I’ve accomplished a lot, although it’s difficult to measure.
Metro Monthly: Going back to the book. How long did it take to write? You said you had some dry runs or some early drafts, but this project – from beginning to end – what would you put the timeline on as far as how long it took?
Lynd: Well, I would say 15 years, but that doesn’t mean we were writing a book for 15 years. As I told you, I did a draft of my own experience. I sent it to a certain reader, that wasn’t too excited about it [laughs], so I set it aside. Later on, I sent it to a publisher – same reaction. And then, and I cannot remember exactly why, at a certain point I told Alice, maybe if we work together on it, maybe if we changed this and changed that, we can produce a product we would feel happy about. And so far, even though it’s not yet available in paperback, we feel terrific about it.
Metro Monthly: When looking back at those cool earlier receptions, do you think it all worked out for the best because you decided to wait?
Lynd: Oh, for sure, because, as I also explained with regard to our daughter Martha, if somebody tells you ‘I don’t really understand that,’ that’s helpful. You know that as a journalist. You want to try to find the words that speak to the reader’s situation. That catch his or her attention. And so that’s what I hope happened over the years. That we more and more found those words.
Metro Monthly: My last question for you: What keeps you in Youngstown?
Lynd: You know, that is such an interesting question because when all the mills closed, which had basically happened in the city of Youngstown by the summer of 1980, I [laughter] remember saying to Alice, I’m a little ashamed of it, but I said to her ‘Well, I guess time to be moving on.’ And she said, ‘Cool your jets. Let’s wait. Let’s see.’
And what happened, of course, was that by the mid-eighties, you had the LTV bankruptcy, we had retirees who were losing their health benefits, pension benefits were being reduced. We had a whole new chapter of the story.
And when it came time to retire in 1996, Alice said to me, ‘I hear there’s some talk about building something called a Supermax. What is a Supermax?’ And so a new chapter opened up. And that’s one way of describing it.
But there’s something else, as well, which is [that] my parents were both born in the Middle West. Alice’s mother comes from Cleveland. And we like the people out here. You know, we like the idea of folks getting up early and making it to the mill or Lordstown by the time the shift starts because we’ve always been people who worked hard and felt that we at least tried [laughs] to get to places on time and so on.
There is the sense of, despite my very different early childhood as the son of two university people in New York, there’s a sense of being at home, of being comfortable with the folks that we meet here. And I think some of those who have become our friends would say the same about us.
© 2010, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.
Visit http://www.metromonthly.net for more articles.
Dora Schwebel, co-founder of the Schwebel Baking Co., with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1950s in Youngstown, Ohio. Image courtesy of the Schwebel Baking Co.
By Natalie Lariccia | Special to the Metro Monthly
From the familiar yellow plastic bags adorned with a smiling clown face, to the appetizing aroma of fresh bread that permeates Midlothian Boulevard, near the Youngstown-Struthers border, Schwebel’s Bakery stands as a symbol of Youngstown’s history.
But the nearly 103-year-old, family-owned bakery represents much more than a long-standing Youngstown baking icon. Schwebel’s is a direct result of the courage and perseverance of one widow who refused to quit.
Even through some of the most devastating personal and economic circumstances and during an era when women were not typically running businesses and raising families, Dora Schwebel never stopped believing that her company would rise and prosper to become one of the most recognized bakeries in Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.
And, just in time for Women’s History Month, Dora Schwebel’s legacy will be commemorated with her induction into the Baking Hall of Fame during the American Baking Society’s 2009 Baking Tech Conference March 1-4 in Chicago.
Although Dora is deceased, some of Dora’s relatives, including Lee Schwebel, Dora’s great grandson and Schwebel’s director of corporate communications, will attend the ceremony.
Lee Schwebel never had the opportunity to meet Dora – he was just one year old when she died – but he is familiar with the many endearing stories about his grandmother and has helped gather a vast collection of photographs, newspaper articles, advertisements, memorabilia and audio recordings that memorialize Dora and the bakery.
“She had the heart of Mother Theresa, but she was tough. I never knew her, but I was obviously influenced by her legacy as it’s been passed down from generation to generation,” Lee Schwebel said.
The story of Schwebel’s bakery began in the small kitchen of Dora’s Campbell home that she shared with her husband, Joseph Schwebel. A young Polish immigrant, Joseph arrived in America in 1898, and married Dora – then 19-years-old – in 1906.
Fresh from the experience of losing just about everything from his initial baking business, Dora suggested to her husband that she should be his new business partner.
Within eight years of baking their first loaf in 1906, Schwebel’s was serving a growing number of small grocery stores, and in 1923, the Schwebels spent $25,000 to open a small bakery on Lawrence Avenue that produced 1,000 loaves a day.
Tough times ensued when Joseph suddenly died of appendicitis, leaving Dora a widow raising six young children, as well as managing the bakery.
Friends and family encouraged her to sell the bakery and focus on raising her family, but Dora refused. In 1929, she faced more hardship when the stock market crashed and the business lost nearly all its investments, leaving Dora without cash to pay the local miller that supplied it with flour. But Dora was determined to maintain her business and convinced the flour companies to extend credit to continue operations.
The Great Depression followed, and while the economy floundered, Schwebel’s flourished, opening a new bakery in 1936. The company’s still-current mascot, Happy the Clown, was introduced as a symbol of hope and optimism during this otherwise bleak time. Dora also helped served the hungry and poor in the community by distributing loaves to those in need, Lee Schwebel said.
In 1951, Schwebel’s opened its “Million Dollar Bakery” at its current location on Midlothian Boulevard, which serves as the company headquarters. Dora remained an active fixture in the company’s operations until she died in 1964.
Today, Schwebel’s continues to prosper, employing about 1,400 workers at its four baking facilities and 30 distribution centers across Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia.
Lee Schwebel, who joined the company in 1995, recalls a fond memory when he heard Dora’s voice for the first time after stumbling across an old record of a WKBN radio broadcast that featured Schwebel’s history and Dora’s efforts.
“It was like opening up a treasure chest. It was very emotional,” he said. “It gives us a much better understanding of the times, hearing her voice. If Dora didn’t persevere and demand that we (Schwebel’s) continue we wouldn’t be here . . . it’s that simple.”
Joe Schwebel, Schwebel’s president, recalled a fond memory of joining Schwebel’s in 1960 as a rather “full of himself” college graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Although Joe Schwebel, who is Dora’s grandson and Lee’s father, may have expected to have a more prestigious office Job, Dora put him to work on early morning shifts, learning the company’s 39 wholesale delivery routes.
“The moral of the story is that I learned more about business riding those 39 routes than I learned in four years of college . . . I think she (Dora) still inspires us today. Her presence was so strong,” Joe Schwebel said.
1898 – Joseph Schwebel, an apprentice baker, comes to America from Poland at age 16.
1900 – Dora Goldberg emigrates from Poland at age 13 with an eighth-grade education.
1906 – Joseph and Dora marry and start baking rye bread in an old fashioned stove in their East Youngstown (Campbell) home. They deliver on foot using wicker laundry baskets filled with 40 pounds of bread. Their primary customers are steel workers living in boarding houses.
1914 – A driver/salesman begins making deliveries by horse and buggy. Customer base expands to mom-and-pop stores.
1923 – With a capital investment of $25,000, the Schwebels open a small bakery on West Lawrence Avenue in Youngstown. Production increases to 1,000 loaves daily. Six trucks make deliveries. The company has 15 employees.
1928 – Joseph Schwebel dies of acute appendicitis at age 46. Dora Schwebel assumes leadership of the company and son Irving Schwebel leaves college to help run the business.
1929 – The stock market crashes and the Great Depression begins. Dora Schwebel takes steps to preserve assets.
1930 – The company invests $8,000 in a new dough mixer. Dora Schwebel guarantees payments to creditors by promising to work on her hands and knees, if necessary.
1931 – Schwebel Baking Co. incorporates.
1932 – The company introduces “Happy the Clown” as its company trademark.
1936 – Schwebel’s introduces bread sliced and wrapped by hand. A $50,000 plant expansion increases production to 15,000 loaves daily. The company installs new automated equipment to separate loaves from baking pans and package 1,800 loaves per hour. Eleven delivery trucks now service customers.
1941 – The U.S. government subsidizes the company during World War II to ensure an adequate food supply. The majority of the company’s output is shipped to the Ravenna Arsenal in Ravenna, Ohio to feed the military. Production increases to 24,000 loaves per day and delivery expands to a 50-mile radius.
1945-48 – Sales department goes entirely wholesale; house-to-house sales discontinued.
1949 – The company constructs a new bakery on Midlothian Boulevard in Youngstown.
1950 – Fire destroys most of the West Lawrence Avenue bakery location.
1951 – Schwebel’s moves into the new $1 million bakery on Midlothian Boulevard. Capacity grows to 40,000 loaves per day.
1954 – Employees number 100.
1955-1963 – The Midlothian bakery expands numerous times.
1964 – Dora Schwebel dies at age 76.
1968 – Schwebel’s presents a bronze replica of its 100 millionth loaf to Youngstown Mayor Frank Kryzan.
1969 – Company introduces Roman Meal.
1972 – A Canton distribution center opens, the first move outside the Youngstown market.
1974 – Schwebel’s enters the Cleveland market when Laub Bakery of Cleveland closes.
1976 – Schwebel’s enters the Pittsburgh market with the purchase of the McKeesport, Pa. Vienna Bakery.
1977 – A $2.5 million expansion in Youngstown fully automates bread production. The state-of-the-art bread line produces 120 loaves per minute.
1983 – Schwebel’s begins providing its original rye bread to Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center.
1984 – The company completes a $2 million plant and office expansion.
1990 – Three Schwebel’s bakeries have a combined capacity to produce 500,000 pounds of bread products daily.
1995 – The fourth generation of the Schwebel family begins working for the company.
2006 – Schwebel’s celebrates 100 years.
– Source: Schwebel Baking Co.
© 2010, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.
Visit http://www.metromonthly.net for more articles.
By Mark C. Peyko | Metro Monthly Editor
Forum Health sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on March 16, but this decision has raised questions in the community about the future of the local health care provider.
The Metro Monthly recently spoke with Forum President and Chief Executive Officer Walter “Buzz” Pishkur about the challenges facing Forum Health and the measures being taken restore the company to fiscal health. The following interview was conducted on March 26 by Mark C. Peyko, Metro Monthly Editor.
Metro Monthly: Could you tell me a little bit about your background before you took on the role of CEO at Forum Health?
Walter “Buzz” Pishkur: I grew up in Hubbard, Ohio. I have a bachelor’s from Ohio State. I have a master’s from the University of Illinois. Prior to Forum, I had worked 39 years in the water-utility industry. I worked 10 years for the city of Hubbard. I worked 29 years for Aqua America in various places.
I had worked in the Struthers division, here in the Youngstown area. Then I moved to Marysville, then out to Danville, Ill. to run [the] water system there. Back in Ohio, I was president of the whole state. And Aqua Ohio, by the way, is the largest water utility in the state of Ohio with about 400,000 customers.
Metro Monthly: You were on the board of directors at Forum Health prior to becoming CEO. How long were you on the board?
Pishkur: I joined the board of directors in mid-year 2005. I became chairman in June of 2008 and became CEO of the hospital in October of 2008.
Metro Monthly: What are the biggest challenges facing Forum Health at this point?
Pishkur: Well, its challenges are that we’re in an industry that continues to be impacted by the economy – i.e. reduction in people’s ability to pay for health care because of loss of health-care coverage and loss of jobs – combined with a situation where we had struggled financially in the past three to four years, actually, to make our operations profitable.
So what we need to do is address our cost structure and address it in a way that allows us to also facilitate the declining usage and the declining ability of people to pay [charity care].
Metro Monthly: Is the charity care issue the single biggest obstacle you face or is it merging [with other things] to create a bigger problem?
Pishkur: Charity care is a major issue. The ability for hospitals to get paid for the services they provide is a major issue. Our charity care exceeds $50 million a year. Our operating losses, including investment losses, have exacerbated our position for about $16 million last year.
So, as you can see, if we had collected half of the non-paid care, we would have been profitable. I’m sure that issue will always be with us and it’s been with us, but the problem is it’s actually climbing. And for Forum Health, we have to deal with not only our current situation, but we have to understand in the short term, my sense is the pressure of not-paid care is going to continue to rise.
Metro Monthly: You met on March 23 with a variety of elected officials. Was the issue of charity care central to the discussion or just part of it?
Pishkur: It came up. I gave them a bunch of statistics that I had been talking to the media about, basically since I became CEO of the hospital. The main statistics are 4,000 jobs at Forum Health in the two counties. We have a $170 million plus payroll.
Our benefit package for our employees equates to about $50 million a year. And we pay $55 million a year in state, local and federal taxes. Not only are we a big part of the local economy from an economic standpoint, but we’re also a big player in providing tax revenues to the cities, as well as the state. And we are the largest employer in Warren. So a lot of the discussions we had were around those statistics.
The one statistic that caught everybody’s eye was the amount of charity care being provided. Everybody figured out very quickly that if we would collect half of that and if we could pay for half of that, it would erase all of our operating losses.
Metro Monthly: OK.
Pishkur: By the way, that’s not unique to Forum Health. It’s just a little more acute here.
Metro Monthly: When Tim Ryan said the Forum Health of the future will be different, he really didn’t go into what that meant. Was that something discussed with him or was it something discussed among the other people in the room?
Pishkur: I think that was an observation Tim made. I think it’s intuitive to most people. We have to somewhat change the way we’ve gone about our business. And I think that has a lot to do with some of the things I talked to them about, specifically the branching out we’re going to be doing in Newton Falls and moving into Hubbard, and the fact that we need to get back into the Boardman market.
Our organization really hasn’t been very aggressive in expanding its service areas and its catchment areas and that’s critical to bringing admissions to the hospital. As we’re dealing with our internal-cost structure, we’re also very actively pursuing expansion of services and expansions of admissions.
Metro Monthly: When you’re reorganizing, you’re putting your attention on economic recovery. It seems like it would be hard to expand during that time. Are things being done in tandem? You’re looking at recovering, but you’re also looking at having a sustainable recovery. Is that what the intent is?
Pishkur: Absolutely. And I would argue that Aqua Ohio, when I was managing that organization and it was buying systems every year, was managing its business very well and managing its cost structure and dealing with all the other things we had to deal with. I think that’s just intuitive in how very successful organizations function. You can’t be one-dimensional.
And you can’t cut costs to prosperity. And I believe the organization [Forum] is really adapting to this – that we need to be doing all these things. We need to be expanding our business, we need to be growing our business, and we need to be working on our cost structure, so not only do we survive but we begin to be able to be financially solvent and be able to do the things we need to do to be a top-notch hospital into the future.
Metro Monthly: As you reorganize, will Forum Health health care facilities continue to have the same level of service and areas of service?
Pishkur: Fundamentally, the answer is yes. One thing that will change is that each of the entities – i.e. the three major hospitals in our services group – need to be financially solvent on their own. We will not be cross-subsidizing. … And that to me makes a lot of sense from a corporate standpoint. We will have several hospitals, maybe add a hospital someday … but each of them has to contribute and be able to financially be viable.
Metro Monthly: Are you looking at reducing the amount of beds at any of the hospitals or closing any wings?
Pishkur: Actually, at both of our hospitals, we increased the number of private rooms. And that’s where our focus is, because we believe that’s an important patient-satisfier as well as an important new standard of care.
We’ve increased our private rooms at Northside Medical Center in the last two months by 42 percent and we’re doing the same thing at Trumbull. And so what that does is it reduces, I guess, the number of beds by virtue of having no more than one bed per room. But in reality we have the capacity at our hospitals for 250 beds or so. Northside has 177 people in beds as we speak right now and Trumbull’s very close to that. So we’re pretty much at our normal census.
Metro Monthly: How will Chapter 11 affect your contracts in the future with interns and residents coming to the hospital?
Pishkur: We don’t believe it will affect it at all. On March 19, we just matched all of our residency positions. That’s the third time in history and the third year in a row we’ve done that on the first day. All those residents were made aware of our situation. … So we don’t see any issue with that.
Metro Monthly: At the meeting with the elected officials, it was said that there were no plans to eliminate jobs, to kind of keep things at the status quo for employment, but is Forum Health considering asking the unions to reopen their contracts during this period?
Pishkur: Absolutely. When 60 to 70 percent of your operating costs are in labor and benefits, obviously those issues have to be dealt with if you have a cost problem. And yes, we’ve been doing that. What I’ve told our unions, and the way we’re going to try to approach this until it proves itself not feasible, is [that] we want to keep all of our institutions open.
I want to preserve every job that’s currently filled. If we reduce jobs, it will be through attrition as those opportunities present themselves. But we certainly have to address some of our other cost structures with having those people on board. To be honest with you, I’m trying to approach this as if it was me sitting on the other side here.
Metro Monthly: The lenders were pretty clear during the Chapter 11 hearing about the status of Northside Hospital and the losses at Northside and the losses at Trumbull Memorial. What are the biggest threats facing Northside?
Pishkur: Let’s be clear: Trumbull Memorial is profitable and Hillside is profitable. The only hospital we have that loses money is Northside.
Metro Monthly: OK.
Pishkur: And the little bit of information that I think is important: The same procedures at Trumbull, if they were performed at Northside, would generate $20 million more because of the payer mix.
But the biggest challenge to Northside and one of the biggest reasons leaving the Boardman market was so critical – not only in number of admissions but in the payer mix piece – is because a higher number of people in the Boardman market are employed and have employee-sponsored health care benefits and can pay for procedures.
Northside’s Achille’s heel is very simple: It’s a teaching hospital. We have the largest residency program in the area. It’s been in existence since 1881. Its clinical outcomes are second to none, but its payer mix, because of its location, is challenged. Therefore, we have a higher amount of non-paid at Northside, which obviously impacts its financial viability.
For Northside, its admissions and its getting a catchment area in an area that has a better payer mix will help it enormously in its financial viability.
Metro Monthly: The care center you’re planning for southern Mahoning County – that’s an attempt to recapture what you lost when Beeghly Medical Park was sold?
Pishkur: Exactly. Somebody asked me, “Gee, that’s crowded down there. Do you think you can get back in?” First of all, remember one thing: We only sold Beeghly one year ago, so it’s not as if we’ve been gone 20 years.
And we were the first hospital in Boardman. We had the first emergency room. Our reputation there is excellent. And my sense is we can get back in that market. We might be out two years at the most, but we can certainly get back in that market. So it’s not like we’ve been gone 20 years and there is a replacement for our services. … My sense is we’ll be able to recapture a significant part of our lost admissions by getting back in that market.
Metro Monthly: A lot of people talk about the importance of health care choice, but they don’t explain why it’s important. What are some of the things Forum has that cannot be found elsewhere? What are your strengths as a hospital system?
Pishkur: Maybe number one is that we are locally headquartered, locally owned, and our orientation is strictly to this region. That’s one thing that we’re talking to people about. Our quality of care, the physicians we have – certainly in the awards that we consistently win – set us in a very elite group of hospitals across the country as far as cardiac care, orthopedics, emergency room management.
Those are important things. We have a dental clinic. We have a family clinic with urgent care. We provide $50 million plus in unpaid care. That care, without our institution, would probably not be available to the population that’s taking advantage of it.
Having one provider in a market is certainly going to put pressure on the price of health care. The competition between the two hospitals certainly benefits employers and Anthem and others [that] negotiate contracts.
Choice is an important thing for both the patient as well as physicians. … My sense is that if you have one provider in this market, the price of health care is going to go up for employers. The choices that we talk about will not be available. And my sense is we will lose physicians due to that, so there are a lot of [positive] factors related to having two sources of health care in the Valley.
Metro Monthly: If you were describing to someone from outside of the area the three best things about Forum Health, what would they be?
Pishkur: Clearly, we have world-class physicians. We have experienced nursing and we have some of the best technology around.
Metro Monthly: The term “sustainable business model” has come up repeatedly in reference to the future of the auto and newspaper industries. I just wonder how you would define a sustainable business model for Forum Health. What does that mean for the system?
Pishkur: It means we have to develop a cost structure that allows us to employ the best and yet be able to maintain enough operating margin so we can capitalize our business and stay up to date with technology.
It’s not just a break-even proposition. As we look to restructure and as we go through this process, we’re looking to bring our cost structure in line to provide enough profitability to both meet our expense levels as well as create an operating margin that allows us to continue to recapitalize our hospital. We will then supplement that with growth initiatives which will bring in additional admissions and therefore allow us to expand that margin and better structure our business.
Metro Monthly: During the hearing the banks were pretty clear about Forum meeting benchmarks in its recovery. Can you identify these benchmarks and what measure are being taken to meet them?
Pishkur: Yes, I actually can. I can tell you I just had a meeting with our leadership this afternoon and I was happy to report on the six parameters for the first 10 days. We’re on a 13 week kind of budget here, which is a 91 day budget. After 10 days, or about 12 percent of that period, we are exceeding every benchmark.
Metro Monthly: What was the beginning date for the benchmarks? Did it begin the date of the hearing?
Pishkur: It began the date of the hearing, on the sixteenth.
Metro Monthly: What benchmarks did you meet?
Pishkur: One of the benchmarks is total external receipts or total expense and we’ve exceeded that by 25 percent. Our total receipts are exceeding what the benchmark needs to be. That means we’re getting people billed, we’re having admissions, we’re providing procedures and people are paying.
One of the other measurements is total disbursements and that’s operating costs and again we’re exceeding that benchmark by 25 percent. Cumulative cash flow, which is the difference between whether we’re building cash or burning cash, is almost $5 million favorable through the first 10 days, the benchmark. On capital expenditures, we’ve agreed to a fixed amount. We actually haven’t had any capital expenditures in the first 10 days, so obviously 100 percent ahead of budget.
On fees that we would incur to file during this bankruptcy, we haven’t been billed yet but we think we’ll be fine as far as tracking against that number. At Northside, we are 25 percent ahead of budget for adjusted admissions and at Trumbull we are 10 percent ahead of budget for adjusted admissions. We are exceeding every one of the benchmarks through 12 percent of the period.
Metro Monthly: Just the idea of reorganizing and being in bankruptcy presents a series of public relations problems. How are you instilling confidence in the public during this period?
Pishkur: That was one of our major concerns as we prepared for the filing because obviously if we didn’t handle the messaging well internally and externally, it actually could have precluded us from having any opportunity to succeed. I’m very much pleased to date. Our employees seem to be very much invigorated. We’ve talked to them and continue to talk to them and communicate with them.
Metro Monthly: Why did you agree to become CEO when some of the problems at Forum Health were starting to become more obvious? What made you want to become CEO and take this on?
Pishkur: Well, obviously, a lot of people have asked me that question. It’s a combination of things. Here’s the thing that weighed into my decision. Number one, I happen to have four sisters that work at Forum Health. My father retired from Trumbull Memorial Hospital and my father has a very fond affinity for the hospital, as you can imagine. I am a person I believe that is community-focused and I’ve spent a lot of time in my career devoting both my time and some of the wealth my wife and I have created to supporting community activities.
I just believe that from an economic standpoint, and a social standpoint, and a quality of life standpoint, the facilities – the hospitals at Forum Health – are just really crucial to our community. I saw some of the challenges and what I thought was the need for leadership and someone locally to take an interest in this hospital system and try to address its needs. … It prompted me to consider being available for the job.
I can tell you, as frank as I can say it, that in June of 2008, when I was asked to chair the board and I agreed to do that for basically the same reasons, I had no intentions of ever leaving Aqua Ohio and my 39-year career and changing careers. But I can tell you right now, it’s been exciting, it’s been challenging, and my sense is if we’re successful it will be the most personally and professionally gratifying thing I’ve ever done.