A Hospital Story: The Birth of St. John Medical Center

A hospital was born in the City of Westlake in the year 1981.

The very first day this hospital opened, a baby boy was born in it.

The hospital was named St. John West Shore. And the baby boy born there that day was, appropriately, also named John.

St. John West Shore Hospital founding President John Rowland with the SJWS cornerstone trowel.

St. John West Shore Hospital founding President John Rowland with the SJWS cornerstone trowel.

Today, that baby is 35 years old.

And St. John West Shore Hospital has become St. John Medical Center.

Now wholly owned by University Hospitals, St. John West Shore Hospital was created through a partnership of two independent West Side Cleveland Hospitals: Bay View Hospital in Bay Village and St. John Hospital in west Cleveland.

Founding father and first president of St. John West Shore Hospital was John Rowland, now living with his wife, Carolyn, at The Normandy Apartments in Rocky River.

The Beginning

Back in the 1970’s, Bay View Hospital was busy and was looking to expand. It was outgrowing its space along the Lake Erie shoreline where Cashelmara stands today.

Bayview Hospital was originally the W.H. Lawrence Mansion in Bay Village. It had been made famous because of its association with Dr. Sam Sheppard.

Bay View consisted of the mansion, a three-story building added behind the original mansion. It housed 115 beds plus an alcoholic unit, Serenity Hall.

Bay View Hospital.

Bay View Hospital.

“The hospital needed to expand. We were out of space and we had more business than we could handle,” said Rowland.

Rowland hired an architect to draw up expansion plans. “Kohei Ishikawa was a marvelously creative guy who wanted the hospital built out over the ravine instead of to the east. It was very creative and that was the plan we originally submitted to the Regional Hospital Planning Board (RHPB),” said Rowland. “But it died.”

Rowland asked the board what they would approve.

“They wanted three things,” he said. “A hospital that was centrally located, a hospital not located on the lake because there is no northern population to serve, and a community hospital with both medical doctors and osteopathic doctors.”

“The best plan of action for Bay View would be to partner with another hospital,” he was told.

Model of proposed St. John West Shore Hospital.

Model of proposed St. John West Shore Hospital.

Turning to Westlake

Rowland hired a consultant to help him find a partner hospital. The year was 1972. The consultant Rowland hired was the legendary John P. Mannix, famed in Cleveland and named to the National Health Care Hall of Fame. He conceived the idea of prepaid hospital insurance, which later developed nationally into Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Fairview Hospital was identified as a partner, and became a 50-50 partner with Bay View. The new venture was incorporated as Westshore Hospital. Rowland was named as President.

“Westshore purchased 78 acres of land in Westlake, which was still a semi-rural town in the outer ring of the Greater Cleveland area,” said Rowland.

This site was selected because it would be bordered on the north by land where Westlake Village stands today and on the south by Center Ridge Road (US Route 20).

But, unbeknownst to Rowland, St. John Hospital, located at W. 79th and Detroit in Cleveland, had also submitted plans to build in Westlake. The Cleveland Catholic Diocese owned a large parcel of land where Westlake Village stands today.

“The RHPB approved the Westshore proposal, but denied the St. John bid,” said Rowland. “So the Westshore plan had cleared its first hurdle.”

State Denies Plan

“The West Shore plan then had to go to the Ohio Director of Health for approval,” said Rowland.

“The Director turned down both the Westshore plan, Fairview plan and St. John plan,” said Rowland. St. John then bought the land acquired 50-50 between Bay View and Fairview Hospitals. It was transferred to the newly organized West Shore Osteopathic group.

City of Westlake Mayor Alex Roman (1966-1980) surveyed the proposed hospital site.

City of Westlake Mayor Alex Roman (1966-1980) surveyed the proposed hospital site.


The 68 acres needed for the West Shore site was assembled by Ross Ellis, Realtor. Three parcels of Westlake farmland included portions of the Deeks family apple orchards (the house and barn still stand today).

In the end, the organization known as the Westlake Health Campus held 80 acres.


The merger of the two hospitals – Bay View and St. John – was going to be tricky.

“It meant not only merging the MDs with the DOs,” said Rowland. “It also meant accommodating the Catholic moral code.”

How could he get everyone to live together under the same roof?

He turned to a public relations expert for help, Bill Silverman.

The solution: To build a condominium hospital.

“St. John West Shore Hospital built two towers that stand today,” said Rowland. “One was for St. John/Catholic approved procedures and one was for West Shore medical procedures like women’s reproductive health services (abortions were never performed at St. John West Shore Hospital).

Drawing the Line

Great care was given to make sure Catholic-approved medical services were kept separate from non-Catholic services.

“One of the operating rooms was physically in the building totally owned by Westshore. Surgery procedures outside the Catholic moral code (like tubal ligation) took place in the other,” said Rowland.

A red line on the building floor separated Catholic from non-Catholic services.

“When I left in 1988, West Shore really just continued as a Catholic hospital,” said Rowland. “They abandoned the concept of separate ownership and Dr. Jack Brill continued to champion the osteopathic teaching program at Ohio University.” SJWS became an affiliate of The Sisters of Charity Health System. University Hospitals entered the picture in 1999.

Health Campus

St. John West Shore Hospital under construction.

St. John West Shore Hospital under construction.

The creation of the Westlake Health Campus was also part of the West Shore master plan.

“A consulting study by the Greater Cleveland Welfare Federation wanted Children’s Services and other social support resources to be brought together in a convenient campus of services setting,” said Rowland. So SJWS implemented the health campus concept.

First on board was Far West Center. Director Jan Reash had a state grant at the time, but no building. The new West Shore group built it for her, and Far West paid them back with the funds.

The Gund Foundation also helped bring services to the campus. The King James Group constructed medical office buildings.

“At that time, the County Nurses had no offices. They were working out of the trunks of their cars,” said Rowland.

The Vision

Today, John Rowland views the evolution of St. John Medical Center as a community resource deeply rooted in its beginnings.

“We had travelled to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit during the planning stages,” he said. “They already had outpatient centers that were feeders to their downtown hospitals. Even back then they were acquiring smaller hospitals. So we knew consolidation was coming.”

Saving the Mansion

Losing Bay View Hospital was a blow to Bay Village. Bay View was the city’s biggest employer. But a controversial plan to rezone the area for condominium development was passed by Bay Village voters and the idea for Cashelmara was born.

Otherwise the old W.H. Lawrence Mansion would have been demolished and single family homes built on the 13-acre site.

“We sold Bay View to developer Robert Corna for $1 million. That money was to be used toward the construction of the new St. John & West Shore Hospital,” said Rowland. “The sale to Corna was in the best interests of the hospital and also to Bay Village.”

Under Budget

The cornerstone for St. John West Shore Hospital was set in 1979 and the hospital opened in 1981.

“Turner Construction did just a great job for us as did Dalton, Dalton & Newport Architects,” said Rowland. “Turner finished the job two months early and under budget, so we enjoyed a two-month delay before we had to start paying our mortgage. That really helped our cash flow, especially in view of the high interest rates of those days.” Interest rates were topping 12 per cent in the early 80’s.

Sr. Judith Ann Karam

Sister Judith Ann Karam

Sister Judith Ann Karam

One of John Rowland’s first hires in the transition from Bay View to St. John & West Shore Hospital was a young nun who had recently graduated from Ohio State University with a master’s degree in Healthcare Administration.


She joined the staff two years before St. John West Shore opened.

“She was great. She accomplished the integration of the entire medical staff and she stayed with me until I retired,” said Rowland.

Her employer was Bay View Hospital. She later advanced to become President and CEO of the Sisters of Charity Health System. Her name? Sr. Judith Ann Karam.

UH Takes Sole Ownership

SJMC New Logo_RGBOn Nov, 2, 2015, it was announced that University Hospitals (UH) and the Sisters of Charity Health System (SCHS) agreed to complete the process of full integration of St. John Medical Center into the UH health system. The announcement followed a five-year agreement under which UH was the managing member of their co-ownership of the hospital.

“St. John is a flagship hospital within the UH health system, combining the healing ministry of SCHS and the high-quality services of UH,” said Thomas F. Zenty III, Chief Executive Officer of UH. “We have the deepest respect for the healing ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System and look to sustain this legacy of care far into the future by bringing new programs and services to St. John while integrating care with our other hospitals and facilities in the area.

The legacy of Catholic health care at St. John Medical Center will be continued through a commitment by UH to be accountable to the Bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland.

“St. John Medical Center continues our commitment of faith-filled service to the west side community, which started when the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine became the owners of St. John Hospital in 1916. We have faith the Catholic mission of St. John will remain. The mission, values and philosophy of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine are truly ingrained into every employee at St. John,” said Sister Judith Ann Karam, CSA, congregational leader of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, which created the Sisters of Charity Health System and its ministries. “We are deeply grateful to the many physicians, employees and volunteers of St. John for their dedication to providing quality healthcare to the community. This is truly a special ministry that we will forever hold in our hearts and prayers.”

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