NEWFANE – Town Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg delivered a comprehensive indictment of the management of Eastern Niagara Hospital as he challenged the community Monday night to show its support for the hospital’s Newfane site at a rally set for Saturday morning.
An overflow crowd of more than 200 in Town Hall stood and cheered as Horanburg placed the blame for troubles at the hospital squarely at the doorstep of CEO Clare A. Haar.
Horanburg is convinced the Newfane hospital is threatened with closure, although hospital spokeswoman Carolyn Moore reiterated Monday that no decision has been made.
“The hospital is studying a variety of options to reduce expenses but has made no decisions. In order to remain viable, it is imperative that the hospital proactively examine opportunities to reshape the organization and utilize its resources in the most efficient manner possible, in accordance with the utilization of services by patients,” Moore said in a prepared statement.
Horanburg bases his belief that closure is near on a recent meeting Haar had with northern Niagara County town supervisors in which she reportedly dwelt on the facility’s financial setbacks, as well as a rash of employee layoffs.
Horanburg said, “I’ve been in front of two state commissions trying to shut that hospital down. I never thought our own people would be the ones to do it.”
He said a rally will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Miller Hose Fire Company in Newfane, and said he wants to see a crowd at least as large as the 5,000 people who turned out in 1987 to beat back a state Health Department closure effort.
Hospital workers who attended Monday’s meeting asked not to be quoted by name for fear of losing their jobs, but they told The Buffalo News that at least 31 employees have been laid off at the 63-bed Newfane site since Jan. 1, far above the 15 acknowledged by Moore.
“We’re just like a skeleton crew,” said one worker, who said the workforce was about 200 at Newfane before the cutbacks. She said full-timers are being reduced to part time, and another employee said doctors are being discouraged from sending outpatients to Newfane for treatment.
“A lot of the outpatients are being sent to Lockport,” a worker said. “That’s where the money is.”
Moore said, “The hospital effected some layoffs this year at both hospital sites in response to declines in inpatient volume, a shift toward outpatient services, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, changes in the way hospitals are paid, increases in uncompensated care and charity care, the Medicare sequestration cuts and the difficult health care environment.”
Horanburg, who said his own life was saved in the Newfane hospital’s emergency room after a heart attack, said Haar “has been allowed to make some horrible and irresponsible financial decisions.”
Among these, he said, were the purchase of the Newfane Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, a 175-bed nursing home that Horanburg charged loses $700,000 a year for the Eastern Niagara Health System, the parent organization of the nursing home and hospitals in Newfane and Lockport. The hospitals were brought under common management in 1999 and formally merged in 2009.
Horanburg also accused Haar of applying for a $7 million state grant about four years ago which, he charged, was supposed to be used to improve the facilities at the Newfane site, such as the maternity ward.
However, he said Haar closed the maternity department about six months after the grant came in. “She basically put $7 million in the garbage,” Horanburg said.
He also condemned the hospital’s $3 million outpatient care center in Lockport, which is to open this summer. He charged that Haar pushed for that project after two surgeons opened their own outpatient center down the street from the Lockport hospital. “In my opinion, this is strictly out of revenge,” Horanburg said.
Hospital spokeswoman Moore said, “In regards to the statements made at the meeting (Monday) night, there are too many inaccuracies and misconceptions to respond to each of them. The reality is that because the two hospitals came together they were able to maintain care in this community.
“Eastern Niagara Hospital has made significant efforts on behalf of its Newfane site during the past several years. It invested $3 million in 2010 to renovate the (medical/surgical) unit to improve the environment for inpatient care. The dialysis unit was added in 2011 after this service was identified as a medical need in the community. Radiology equipment and technology has been enhanced, including the additions of a 64-slice CT scan, digital mammography and dual-head nuclear medicine upgrades.”
Wilson Supervisor Joseph A. Jastrzemski said, “I believe they’re losing money, but why? I think it’s a number of things, but I believe a lot of it has to do with moving the services out of the Newfane area up there [to Lockport].”
Engert said Medina Memorial Hospital was in financial trouble a few years ago, but hired an outside consultant and changed top management. He recommended a similar course for Eastern Niagara Hospital.
“These decisions seem to be coming from the CEO. Who’s vetting them to see if these are good decisions or not?” Engert asked. “We’ve seen some questionable decisions that haven’t panned out.”
Dr. Margaret Libby of Barker said, “Newfane Hospital needs to stay alive.”