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Massena hospital gathers data on privatization

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MASSENA — Hospital officials have voted to seek expert advice on the possibility of turning from a municipal hospital into a private, not-for-profit hospital.

Tina R. Corcoran, senior director of public relations and planning for Massena Memorial Hospital, said the board of managers has a number of factors to consider, and many parties to consult with before it can begin to consider privatizing the town-owned hospital as a way to save on rising retirement costs. A consultant would provide hospital officials with that information should they consider moving ahead with privatization.

Privatizing would remove employees from the state pension system.

“The board agreed to allow and direct administrative information gathering to evaluate the possible restructuring of the hospital for becoming a private, not-for-profit facility,” Mrs. Corcoran said.

She said that in 2002, the hospital paid only $149,000 into the state pension plan, compared with the more than $3.8 million it paid in 2012. This year, the hospital will pay $4.8 million into its pension plan, and Mrs. Corcoran said hospital officials are concerned that rising pension costs might threaten the viability of the hospital.

“Those costs have escalated. We have to look at what we can do to sustain this hospital. We’re a major employer in this community,” Mrs. Corcoran said.

According to Mrs. Corcoran, privatization would have three significant effects on the hospital: it would affect its long-term bonding, it would allow the hospital to collaborate with outside agencies, such as other nonprofit area hospitals, and it would remove hospital employees from the state’s pension system and instead provide them with a different type of retirement plan.

Jonnie J. Dorothy, senior director of human resources at Massena Memorial, said the opportunity to work with other hospitals could increase the efficiency of care, allowing Massena to work collaboratively with local hospitals and not duplicate specialized services offered at other nearby facilities.

“We all have to be different enough to supplement each other. We all have something to provide,” Ms. Dorothy said.

Mrs. Corcoran said the consultant would determine Massena’s options to provide retirement benefits for its employees, in place of the state pension plan, should the hospital privatize.

The possible change in retirement plans has left some employees concerned about the level of benefits they will receive upon retirement, should the board of managers elect to privatize the hospital, said Joseph Ward, a former nurse and president of Massena Memorial’s New York State Nurses Association union local.

Some employees already are beginning to look for jobs elsewhere because of the possible change, he said.

“The morale down there is really low. A lot of people took jobs there because of the benefits,” Mr. Ward said. “It used to be a good hospital, but lately, in the last few years, it’s lost a lot.”

Mrs. Corcoran could not provide an estimated timetable for when privatization might take place, but expects it to be a lengthy process. Before going private, hospital officials will have to consult with the state Department of Health, the New York State Commission on Health Care Facilities, the Massena Town Council, state government officials, state retirement officials, its long-term bond counsel and its employees and medical staff.

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray pointed out the Town Council would have a say over whether to allow the hospital to privatize, and said his vote would be based on the information hospital officials bring before the board.

“I would have to wait and see what the research indicates. There’s no doubt the hospital has to do something, and I think the plan is to wait and see what their options are,” Mr. Gray said.

Mrs. Corcoran said hospital CEO Charles F. Fahd II would keep employees informed as the hospital continues to gather data about possible privatization.

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