By Kaley Lynch
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal —
NEWFANE — An all-ages crowd packed into the Miller Hose fire hall Saturday morning and made a standing-room-only rally in defense of Eastern Niagara Hospital-Newfane.
Many wore blue T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Keep Newfane Hospital Alive.” Others held signs, both printed and handmade, with similar phrases.
Town officials from across northern Niagara County were present to represent their towns' support of ENH, including supervisor Wright Ellis of Cambria, supervisor Joseph Jastrzemski of Wilson and supervisor Dan Engert of Somerset.
“We need to stop the bleeding of Newfane's hospital,” Newfane town Supervisor Tim Horanburg declared in leading off the rally.
The “bleeding” referred to a series of events, including 15 layoffs since Jan. 1 and cutting of services, which together suggest to residents that the hospital is in danger of closing.
“It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what's going on there,” Horanburg said.
The four town supervisors each took a turn at the microphone, voicing their concerns about the fate of ENH-Newfane and sharing personal anecdotes of taking their loved ones there in emergencies.
Ellis said about 70 percent of ambulance service calls by Cambria Volunteer Fire Company are bound for Newfane hospital.
“The proximity of the hospital significantly reduces patient transport time,” he said. “Our volunteers have day jobs they spend time at, and if Newfane's services are dismantled, their response time in taking patients to other hospitals will be much longer.”
Engert warned that closure of ENH would be financially devastating to the area.
“If the hospital closes, it would most likely lead to closing of businesses in our area, as well as trouble attracting new businesses,” he said.
Newfane school board president James Reinke and vice president Kelly Artieri spoke in defense of ENH-Newfane's Allied Health program, which offers students throughout the county the opportunity to shadow hospital professionals while taking classes in pre-med, nursing and radiology. The program is not available at ENH-Lockport or other area hospitals, according to Artieri.
“This program is an invaluable asset to our students,” Artieri said.
ENH officials have said no decision has been made to close the Newfane hospital.
Earlier this week, Niagara County legislators John Syracuse, R-Newfane, and Richard Updegrove, R-Lockport, pushed a resolution through the legislature urging ENH CEO Clare Haar to place a moratorium on further cuts at the Newfane site and find ways to continue community services there.
Syracuse said the supervisors are planning a meeting with the hospital's board of directors sometime next week, although no date has been set yet.
“We want to have them engage in a large scale study of this community's needs,” Syracuse said. “As stakeholders in this healthcare system, we deserve to have a decision in its long-term direction.”
Syracuse, a chiropractor, compared cutting services and employees at ENH to an amputation.
“When the hospitals merged, we were promised that both hospitals would remain open and functional. Now, they've been taking a bone saw to our Newfane hospital,” Syracuse said. “Newfane entered this merger healthy. It shouldn't suffer the death of a thousand cuts.”
The town boards and the legislature will pledge support and assistance to the hospital's board of directors to come up with a comprehensive sustainability plan, according to Updegrove.
“We believe this process needs to begin at once,” he said.
Community members were invited to speak out at the rally. Some shared tearful testimonials about the hospital's importance in the community. Others offered statistics about dwindling healthcare availability in rural areas. There were some fierce rallying cries questioning why medical staff positions were cut at the hospital, rather than financial or clerical jobs.
One, a longtime nurse at Newfane hospital, echoed the crowd's sentiment when she got to the stage.
“We deserve to know what's going on,” she said.Contact reporter Kaley Lynch at 439-9222 ext. 6245 or tweet to @Lynchie17