Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

March 19, 2014

Newfane hospital finding public support

BY JOE OLENICK joe.olenick@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — NEWFANE — The fight is on to save Eastern Niagara Hospital’s Newfane facility from a perceived threat of closure.

There’s a two-pronged movement in support of the Newfane hospital, led by community members who are using everything from social media to business signs to spread the word. There’s even an online petition that’s been signed by 156 people as of 6 p.m. Tuesday.

A Facebook group of more than 1,400 people has sprung up. More than 200 attended a Monday night meeting where local supervisors and community leaders from Newfane, Cambria, Wilson and Somerset met to discuss how to save the hospital from a feared closing.

And for those who are supporting the hospital, the mission is simple, according to Debbie Bartenstein.

“Our role is to show why this hospital needs to be maintained,” she said. “We can’t let sentiment get in the way, even though it tugs at the heart strings.”

On the government’s end, local leaders are looking for a way to preserve the William Street site.

Newfane Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg called for the rescue of the Newfane hospital, as well as a change in Eastern Niagara Hospital management.

In front of a standing room-only crowd Monday night at Town Hall, Horanburg read a letter he wrote to Niagara County residents explaining the situation with the Eastern Niagara Hospital’s Newfane site, formerly known as Inter-Community Memorial Hospital.

Eastern Niagara CEO Clare Haar has made some “horrible, irresponsible financial decisions,” Horanburg charged.

“There needs to be a change in management and we need it now,” he said. “Make the board of directors wake up and do the right thing.”

Horanburg said residents will have a chance to speak at a public meeting to be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Miller Hose Volunteer Fire Co. hall, 6161 McKee St.

But that didn’t stop people from attending the Monday meeting, however.

Residents packed the meeting room, some carrying signs proclaiming that the hospital should remain open. Flyers appeared on some vehicles parked near the Town Hall on Main Street, while a number of local businesses put out signs in support of saving the hospital.

But, Eastern Niagara Hospital officials are saying they have not made a decision to close the Newfane site. The hospital is looking at alternative ways to cut costs, ENH community relations director Carolyn Moore said in a written statement.

“In order to remain viable, it is imperative that the hospital proactively examine opportunities to reshape the organization and utilize its resources in the most efficient manner possible — in accordance with the utilization of services by patients,” Moore said. “The hospital is studying a variety of options to reduce expenses, but has made no decisions.”

There have been 15 layoffs at both ENH sites, Lockport and Newfane, since Jan. 1, hospital officials said. On Saturday, Horanburg said the layoff total was closer to 21.

In January, ENH said the Newfane site had stopped employee cafeteria services on evenings and weekends. Pharmacy hours were reduced as well, down to 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Residents have said other services are being cut, but ENH officials dispute that.

“No patient services have been eliminated at the Newfane site,” Moore said Tuesday. “We might adjust hours, but no services have been cut over the last couple of years.”

Moore said Eastern Niagara Hospital has made significant improvements at the Newfane site. Those improvements include enhancing radiology equipment and technology, investing $3 million in 2010 to renovate the medical and surgical unit and adding the dialysis unit in 2011, “after this service was identified as a medical need in the community,” Moore said.

The recent layoffs were in response to decreased inpatient volume and a shift toward outpatient services, according to Moore’s statement. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, changes in the way hospitals are paid, increases in uncompensated care and charity care, the Medicare sequestration cuts and the difficult healthcare environment have all contributed to ENH’s financial challenges, Moore said.

“Change is a constant for health care institutions today. Hospitals can no longer operate in the same manner they did 20 years ago or even 10 years ago,” Moore said. “As the needs of the community and the utilization of services change, the hospital must also reconfigure. It is essential in order to ensure ENH’s long term sustainability in the region.”

Horanburg said ENH should have never bought the Newfane Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, which he claimed was losing $700,000 a year. He also questioned why ENH officials would build a $3 million surgical center on South Transit Road in the Town of Lockport, with Newfane facing such hard financial challenges and a surgical center opening just down the street from ENH Lockport on East Avenue.

“In my opinion, this is strictly out of revenge,” Horanburg said.

He also accused Haar of applying for a $7 million state grant about four years ago which, he charged, was supposed to be used to improve the facilities at the Newfane site, such as the maternity ward. However, he said Haar closed the maternity department about six months after the grant came in.

“She basically put $7 million in the garbage,” Horanburg said.

Encouraging the community’s support, Horanburg said the Newfane hospital has twice survived the state health department’s attempts at closure, showing Monday’s crowd a picture of a 1987 meeting of residents in opposition of Albany’s attempt. He said he hoped Saturday’s meeting tops the 5,000 who were there in 1987.

“We are here for a purpose, that hospital we built has to stay here,” Horanburg said.

Bartenstein said there’s belief Saturday’s turnout will top that of the 1987 gathering. Losing the hospital wouldn’t just mean a much longer drive for patients, but it may also affect Niagara County’s ability to draw younger families and newer physicians to the northern and eastern side, Bartenstein said.

“It could impact the growth of this community,” she said.

Horanburg said Tuesday he was trying to arrange a meeting between town supervisors and the ENH Board of Directors. A list of board members was not available Tuesday.

Eastern Niagara Hospital remains committed to providing access to local care, Moore said.

“It is taking a methodical approach to evaluate all areas so that it can best meet the changing needs of the community and position the hospital for continued success. Specifics have yet to be determined,” Moore said. “In order to fulfill its mission of providing care to the residents of eastern Niagara County, ENH must continue to achieve fiscal stability — which can sometimes be a painful process.”

MORE INSIDE • Check out Newfane Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg's letter to county residents, PAGE 7A

Reporter Kaley Lynch contributed to this story. Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.