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MMH board chairman encourages unity as hospital moves ahead with study

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MASSENA - The chairman of the Massena Memorial Hospital Board of Managers said Monday night that everybody needs to work together to help the hospital as they move forward with a study to determine if they should convert from a municipal facility to a private, non-profit hospital.

Andrew T. Spanburgh suggested that everyone throughout the hospital needed to plug the benefits of using Massena Memorial Hospital.

“Right now what we can really use is for everybody - board, senior staff, our leaders at the top, our total employees - to go out there and tell people how good you are. We’ve passed every test there is the board of health, JCAHO (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations). We’re good. We have quality service here in Massena. We need to go out, our doctors need to go out, everybody needs to go out and say we’ve got the service, and the people come through the door and request the service,” he said during Monday’s Board of Managers meeting.

“We’re watching everything we can watch. We need for everybody to tell everybody else how good we are. Our employees are good,” and the equipment is of the best quality, Mr. Spanburgh said.

A study on the conversion to a private, non-profit hospital is already underway, but it has drawn the ire of the hospital’s union members who are worried, in part, about the impact on the benefits they’ve accrued through their years of service at the facility.

Mr. Spanburgh said they were not looking at the change in an effort to break unions, but simply because they could not continue to absorb the financial losses.

“It has not been and it is not the intention of the Massena Hospital Board to have any union decertified. We have not, nor do we blame any union or other worker for our loss of revenue,” he said. “I wanted to make sure everybody understands, we respect or union contracts, we will live up to our contracts, we will renegotiate the contracts in the proper business manner they should be negotiated.”

Mr. Spanburgh noted that they had identified reasons for the loss of revenue over the past several years. Among them, he said, was the loss of primary care physicians, a change in government reimbursement and a resulting loss of $1 million a year, and the effects of the sequester at the federal level.

As a result, he said, “We identified where we could save. We did that, and revenue still goes down.”

He took exception to statements that suggested the hospital was spending money recklessly.

“To hear things that we’re spending money recklessly, we have over $7.5 million reserved. That’s a nice number. The only problem is, in three months $4 million roughly is going for one expense (retirement contributions),” Mr. Spanburgh said.

He cited several instances where moves made by the hospital were for the betterment of the facility for staff and patients.

“How far back do you want to go? Pediatrics? There was none. ICU. The staff can’t get new equipment into the old rooms. We got a new ICU. Is that reckless?” he asked.

Beds for another hospital unit were moved out of the cellar and up to the third floor.

“We paid for that; the hospital paid for that. Where’d the money come from? Patients,” Mr. Spanburgh said. “If that was reckless, we’re really in trouble.”

He also cited the new medical complex across from the hospital.

“That’s been the big one, $3.5 million,” he said.

But, the board chairman noted, “in less than three years one doctor with a new service will pay for the building, which we have. It pays for the whole thing. Now we have two more primary care coming, plus we retain the services of some other doctors. Is that reckless?”

Finances have been the big concern, leading to the board to an agreement to study the move toward becoming a private, non-profit, Mr. Spanburgh said.

“We went to the political people and representatives locally and informed them that we really need to take a look at this. By law we are the sole group responsible for the operation of the hospital,” he said.

“We don’t have any answers yet and everybody’s up in arms,” he said, suggesting that the move was about financial survival. “We’re not going to wait until we run deficits for 10 to 12 years.”

While the board is responsible for operation of the hospital, Mr. Spanburgh said the keys to the facility are held by the state’s commissioner of health. That means, if they don’t take action, the state will, he said, as they did with E.J. Noble Hospital in Gouverneur.

The Department of Health shut down E.J. Noble Hospital’s lab in September 2012 because of deficiencies. The closure forced the shut-down of many of the hospital’s functions, including the emergency room, obstetrics and surgeries.

“With all of these new things that are affecting us, they affect E.J. Noble Hospital. They are not a municipal hospital, but everybody’s affected. Unfortunately, the state board of health took action against E.J. Noble in their lab. At the same time our lab was inspected. Not only was it adequate, it was excellent. The quality of service was beyond scale, according to the inspectors,” Mr. Spanburgh said.

“They’re closing, being taken over by somebody else. They’re going to be critical access at best. The board at this time does not believe a critical access hospital, which is 20 beds or less, can fix our community needs. We don’t believe in closing. We’re not for sale. We never said it. We never asked the town for sale money if we did do something,” he said.

The commissioner, he said, “holds the keys. He’s the one who took action down in Gouverneur, and you’ll see more action out of him.”

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