Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

March 21, 2014

Debatable diagnosis

Some cite reasons for ENH-Newfane closure concern, officials say concern based on incorrect statements

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

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — There are a lot of people concerned over the possible closure of Eastern Niagara Hospital in Newfane, but those concerns are based on incorrect statements, ENH officials said Thursday.

At a meeting Monday and through social media, Newfane residents and hospital supporters have expressed that worry. Facebook groups and both written and online petitions have sprung up in an effort to stave off closure.

There’s been a series of events, including at least 15 layoffs since Jan. 1 and the cutting of services, that suggests to supporters that the Newfane hospital is in trouble.

But, ENH officials have said no decision has been made to close the Newfane hospital. Instead, ENH has said it has to make adjustments in staffing and look at everything to help weather the financial challenges it faces.

Residents and hospital supporters will have a chance to speak further at a public meeting to be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Miller Hose Volunteer Fire Co. hall, 6161 McKee St. Signs of support are springing up everywhere in Newfane while T-shirts are being sold at Town Hall.

That same concern about Newfane reached the legislative chambers at the Niagara County Court House this week.

The Niagara County Legislature approved a resolution Tuesday encouraging ENH and CEO Clare Haar to “a long term effort to study the needs of the entire community... and that is oriented toward preserving services at both sites.”

County lawmakers also want ENH to hold off on “any actions that are likely to result in the closure or diminishment of the mission of the Newfane site” until that study is done. The resolution said dialogue should continue between ENH and elected leaders, while county officials stand by to assist.

In a statement released Thursday, ENH officials responded to a number of general statements made by those who believe the hospital is on the fast track to closure. 

One commonly repeated statement in particular is the hospital’s alleged reduction and relocation of services. ENH said “there has been no discontinuation by the hospital or major patient programs at the Newfane site over the past four years.”

But a sign of trouble to residents is the loss of Newfane’s maternity ward. ENH’s statement said based on patient use trends, the maternity services were consolidated at ENH’s Lockport site on East Avenue in March 2010. But that was three years after the maternity unit was renovated, a $400,000 project, according to ENH’s statement and contrary to the idea that it happened just six months after the unit’s renovation.

A $3 million renovation of the Newfane facility’s medical and surgical unit took place in 2010, followed by the addition of the dialysis unit the following year.

However, ENH has said it had stopped Newfane employee cafeteria services on evenings and weekends. Pharmacy hours were reduced as well.

Another question raised by residents was ENH’s use of New York’s Healthcare Efficiency and Affordability Law funding. The HEAL money was to assist hospitals across the state to follow recommendations made by the Berger Commission, which was tasked with restructuring hospitals and streamlining healthcare facilities.

The commission recommended the merger of Newfane and Lockport’s hospitals. So the resulting creation of Eastern Niagara Hospitals was awarded a $9.1 million HEAL grant to pay off debt from both hospitals. In 1999, Newfane’s hospital would provide $2 million to assist Lockport’s.

In 2005, Newfane provided that $2 million by borrowing it, ENH said. Any debt left over from that was paid with the HEAL money, ENH said.

The Newfane site, located at 2600 William St. and once known as Inter-Community Memorial Hospital, has been under the same management as its Lockport counterpart since 1999. The hospitals formally became ENH in 2009.

Newfane employs roughly 200 people and has about 70 beds.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.