IRVING - With news of Lake Shore Health Care Center's looming closure, area officials are scrambling to figure out how to save the facility, or at least soften the economic blow it may deal.
State Senator Cathy Young (R,C,I-Olean) and Assemblymen Andy Goodell (R,C-Chautauqua) and Joe Giglio (R,C,I-Gowanda), among others, are working on setting up an emergency meeting to review the situation, which Young stated should happen within the next few days.
"This all came out of the blue. There was no communication beforehand with me. It's very concerning," she said. "I have been in close contact with the state Health Department and I am doing everything I can to help the situation. I have requested a meeting with hospital officials, the board of directors, elected officials and the state Health Department. Right now, I am trying to get as much information as I can about the financial situation. We also need to make a plan for health care needs for the region (if the hospital closes)."
"Our top priority is to ensure a high-quality continuity of care for all the residents that are there and the availability of high-quality medical care for the residents in the community," Goodell told WDOE.
County Legislator George Borrello (R-Irving), who is also working on the meeting, said the situation may escalate to what NRG Energy is currently facing, with the state Public Service Commission deciding if it should repower its Dunkirk-based plant.
"The public needs to make it known to their elected officials, to people they know that are involved with the hospital's administration, that this facility is a critical component to the health care services of Chautauqua County and it needs to remain open.
"Just like with NRG, the public needs to make it aware that this is something that's important to everyone. With NRG, there was a point at which public comments were being made. That may very well happen down the road. You have to remember that the Health Department is really the organization that determines if this hospital can actually close. So, at some point, this may become similar to NRG and the PSC and there may be an opportunity for us to speak out on keeping this facility open," Borrello said.
The intent of the meeting of officials is to understand how Lake Shore got to the point it is at today. Borrello also wants the question answered of what has changed from when a brand new emergency room was opened up there a few months ago.
"Perhaps we can bring in a group of people to operate different parts of the hospital. There are people out there that are better at running specific aspects of the business than they are as a whole. In other words, is there a way to create some kind of partnership to operate (various parts of) the hospital? It's a busy place, and you look at the fact that there are many area doctors who choose to perform their surgeries at Lake Shore. That means there's a demand.
"The question is how do we figure a way to operate the hospital and keep it solvent? Hopefully this ... meeting will help us identify a path to a partnership to keep the place open," Borrello said.
Borrello confirmed that the hospital's closure will not affect the current development of a water park and hotel (slated to open in June) next to the hospital.
Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards said he has been in close contact with hospital officials and is familiar with the challenges the facility has been facing the past few years.
"Everyone involved in the hospital is still working on every possible avenue available to prevent the closing from taking place and there are options that could enable the hospital to go forward," he said. "But, the board of directors was accurate when they said, barring some significant changes, there's a very large possibility that it could close. Anything's possible. They have been trying to sell their nursing home and their home care agency because the nursing home was losing millions of dollars, just like the County Home. And I know they're actively investigating the potential of a buyer to operate the hospital. The senior leadership is committed to try to make that happen."
The Lake Erie Regional Health System, Lake Shore's parent company, filed a WARN notice (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) with the state Labor Department on Thursday, officially beginning the process to close down the facility. The notice stated layoffs will begin Jan. 20 and will end Jan. 31, when the hospital shuts down.
The company released an open letter Wednesday stating about 460 jobs and 67 nursing home residents at the hospital will be affected. Lake Shore is closing due to a $7 million shortfall in 2013, with additional losses projected for the future if it stays open.
"Due in part to declining patient volumes, declining reimbursement rates, increased government mandates, and unrealized benefits of consolidation efforts related to the Berger Commission, those financial challenges are greater than ever before," the letter stated. "Despite changes, the financial situation at Lake Shore has continued to decline to an unsustainable level."
Todd Tranum, president and CEO of the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce and Manufacturers Association, said the entire situation is unfortunate and that decisions such as these are never easy for boards of directors.
"We can only hope for the best and that some solution can be found, possibly in the form of preserving some of the hospital's services and at least keep those people employed," he said.
"We're still in the early stages of this, but we're all moving as quickly as we can," Borrello said. "This is more than just jobs. It's the public's safety, as well."
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