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MMH Community Coalition plans Aug. 5 meeting

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MASSENA - The MMH Community Coalition, a group that hopes to keep Massena Memorial Hospital from going private, will hold a meeting at 5 p.m. Aug. 5 at Dar’s Place in downtown Massena.

The meeting is open to anyone, including community members, hospital employees, community leaders, friends, family and neighbors who would like more information about keeping Massena Memorial Hospital a community-owned hospital,” organizers said Thursday in a press release.

Individuals are urged to attend, ask questions and help keep Massena Memorial Hospital as a public hospital, they said.

Jason Garcia, a member of the MMH Community Coalition who said he was born at Massena Memorial and has been a community member since that day, said they want to involve the community in the fight to keep MMH from becoming a private, non-for-profit hospital. The group was established earlier this year over concerns about hospital officials deciding to look into privatization.

“We have meetings frequently. We’re trying to get out there and advertise more to get more people, especially community members, involved. Obviously this is not just a hospital employee issue. This is an issue that impacts everybody,” Mr. Garcia said.

The informal Aug. 5 meeting will include an open discussion about the current situation, as well as alternatives to privatization.

“We want people to get involved, to come and ask questions. I think a lot of people believe it only affects people who work at the hospital, but it affects everybody in the community. It affects businesses in the community with the hospital being the third largest employer in the area,” Mr. Garcia said.

“We haven’t put tons of information out. I think there’s a lot of misconceptions. The coalition is not anti-hospital. It’s more of pro-public hospital,” he said.

Members of the Massena Memorial Hospital Board of Managers voted this week to hire the law firm of Hancock Estabrook, LLP, Syracuse, at a cost not to exceed $100,000 to explore transitioning from a municipal hospital to a private, non-for-profit entity.

The study will consist of three phases. Phase one, which is expected to take two to three months, will include the study of all contracts, such as vendors and employees to see if anything would prohibit the transition from a public to a private facility.

Phase two would the implementation phase in which the paperwork such as a Certificate of Need would be filed to begin the conversion process. That could take one or two months.

Phase three would be the time when they would go through the Internal Revenue Service to acquire their tax-exempt status. That could take for to six months.

The study is being done to determine if it’s feasible to become a private, non-for-profit facility in the wake of projected losses of millions of dollars over the next 10 years.

MMH Charles F. Fahd II has said they were looking at a projected $15 million loss in reimbursements over the next 10 years and a directive by the state commissioner of health to explore options such as collaborating, affiliating, merging or sharing with other facilities, leaving them with little choice but to investigate the move.

Mr. Fahd said its options as a municipal hospital are limited, and it cannot absorb the projected losses it’s facing in the years ahead. Those include a reduction of $10.5 million in Medicare reimbursement over the next 10 years because of the federal Affordable Care Act; a $1.9 million reduction in Medicaid reimbursement over the next 10 years because of sequestration; and a $2.7 million reduction in Medicaid reimbursement over the next 10 years because of inpatient coding adjustments.

On top of that, he said, what was a $124,200 contribution to the state’s pension program in 2002 has jumped to $4.4 million in December 2013, with a project $4.8 million contribution in December 2014.

In addition to the loss of Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements and the increased pension costs, the state Department of Health also wants north country hospitals to seek formal affiliations, collaboration, merger or other sharing agreements to reduce duplicated services such as capital equipment acquisition and overall health care expenses in the region.

But, as a municipal hospital, Massena Memorial is unable to do that because of the taxpayer money involved.

“We have to do something, there is no doubt,” Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said during Monday’s Board of Managers meeting. “MMH is headed into unknown, rough financial waters, and we need to be prepared for whatever comes our way.”

He suggested the Board of Managers and management needed to “expeditiously move forward with their research on the different possible options for MMH’s future.”

Members of the MMH Community Coalition, who have had a presence at recent Board of Managers and Massena Town Council meetings, have opposed the proposed move.

Their fear, they have said, is that by privatizing Massena Memorial, residents would be giving up control over the hospital; accountability for patient health; health care services that are not seen as profitable; retirement security for workers; good-paying, middle class jobs; and wages that are spent in the local community.

They said the hospital belongs to all taxpayers in the town of Massena, who should have control over its destiny, control of the quality of care provided and control of what services are or are not provided.

For example, Mr. Garcia said, the hospital’s Dialysis Clinic was established based on community need.

“To my knowledge it’s not a money-maker for the hospital. To my knowledge it actually loses money. It’s there because the community needs it. We’re afraid that if (the hospital) goes private some hard decisions might have to be made,” he said.

And that, Mr. Garcia, might mean the end of services such as the Dialysis Clinic.

They have asked residents to write letters to members of the Massena Town Council and also sign a petition at https://www.change.org/petitions/keep-mmh-public. They also have a Facebook page located at https://www.facebook.com/ourmmh.

“I think they’re doing good. The petition signing has toned down a little bit because it’s on the back burner. We’re doing a lot of other things trying to get people involved,” Mr. Garcia said.

The Massena Town Board would have ultimate approval if research indicated the move would be beneficial.

Members of the MMH Community Coalition said more information about their efforts is available by attending the Aug. 5 meeting. Those who can’t attend but would like to support their efforts or get involved can email itsmymmh@gmail.com.

“Our time to fight for Our MMH is dwindling. The time to get involved is now,” they said.

Mr. Garcia said they’ve offered cost-cutting suggestions to management in an effort to ease the financial burden, but none have been implemented.

“We just don’t believe (privatization) is the way to go. We all have the same goal in mind, whether it’s the hospital board, town board, community or employees. We wall want to continue quality health care,” Mr. Garcia said.

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