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Russell’s comments on MMH draw Gray’s ire

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MASSENA - Comments made by Assemblywoman Addie Jenne Russell regarding the proposed privatization of Massena Memorial Hospital while in Massena for the community’s annual Solidarity Day parade earlier this month have drawn the ire of Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray.

Ms. Russell essentially called the threat of privatization a gimmick being used by the hospital’s administration in an attempt to break its unions.

“I know the next couple of years in health care are going to be challenging for everyone, but I don’t think Massena Memorial Hospital should be targeting unions to pin the blame on,” she said. This is a period of transition and to me it seems like they’re using the transition to try and break the union.”

Rather than taking sides in the battle, Mr. Gray said Ms. Russell should be working to help solve the problems MMH is facing.

“It would be better is Ms. Russell would use her time to talk about reforming the horribly broken New York state pension system, rather than trying to pin one side against the other in the MMH debate,” Mr. Gray said.

It is the pension system that finds itself at the center of the debate with hospital employees not wanting to lose their pension, and hospital officials saying the costs of providing it are driving them into debt.

“Ms. Russell can introduce legislation tomorrow that would restore employee contributions to the system, but I have my doubts that she would do that,” he said. “The majority of the people in the pension system, including those at MMH, no longer contribute.”

Mr. Gray explained that once an employee becomes vested in the state’s pension system, they are no longer obligated to contribute toward it.

“Once your vested in the system, you no longer contribute anything,” he said. “That simply is not feasible and is part of the problem.”

While Mr. Gray said he has not made up his mind in regards to whether he is in favor of privatization, there is one aspect of the situation that he can’t stop thinking about.

“Why are there only two public hospitals left in the state?” he asked. “I don’t know if privatization is the right thing for Massena or not, but that keeps coming back to me.”

Rather than threatening employees with privatization, Ms. Russell said she would like to see hospital officials work with its employees to find a solution to preserve the hospital’s public status.

“This is a very complicated issue, and I would like to see the hospital work with its unions to get through this, rather than using their backs to avoid making administrative changes.”

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