NEWFANE – Town supervisors in northern Niagara County said Friday they are trying to mobilize to prevent a feared closure of Eastern Niagara Hospital’s Newfane site.
Hospital spokeswoman Carolyn Moore acknowledged that there have been about 15 layoffs since Jan. 1 in the combined Lockport-Newfane hospital pairing.
But she said in a statement, “While we appreciate the community’s concerns, there has been no decision to close the Newfane site. While we regret the personal impact of job cutbacks, the hospital must continue to match resources with the ongoing utilization of services.”
However, after a March 7 meeting between the town supervisors and hospital CEO Clare A. Haar in which she reportedly dwelt on financial challenges facing the hospital, Newfane Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg concluded that the 63-bed Newfane hospital, in business since 1958, is in trouble.
Horanburg has called a meeting for 7 p.m. Monday in the Newfane Community Center, 2737 Main St., and the supervisors of Wilson, Cambria and Somerset are among the officials expected to attend.
“You can see the handwriting on the wall,” Horanburg said, referring to services that have been cut and workers that have been eliminated at the facility at 2600 William St.
Horanburg said he’s held several meetings with hospital personnel lately, to no avail, including another meeting Thursday with Haar.
“We have to come up with a scenario on how to stop this,” Horanburg said. “We’ll have the supervisors from Cambria, Wilson and Somerset there, too, Monday, as well as fire companies, ambulance services and civic groups, like the Lions and the business associations.
“They’ve been laying people off – four more were laid off [Friday],” he said. “We’ve seen little services pulled here and there, and now the emergency room is next.”
The hospitals – formerly known as Inter-Community Memorial Hospital of Newfane and Lockport Memorial Hospital – have been under common management since 1999, and formally amalgamated in 2009. That’s when the names were changed to the Newfane and Lockport sites of Eastern Niagara Hospital.
“They took the Newfane hospital’s financial strength and moved $2 million to Lockport when they merged with the Lockport hospital,” Horanburg said. “We fought the state three or four times to keep this hospital open over the years and now our own people are closing it. There is a real firestorm coming to stop this closing.”
Somerset Supervisor Daniel M. Engert said the councilman he sent to the March 7 meeting told him that Haar talked about declining patient counts, which she blamed in part on patients heading for urgent care centers outside Niagara County.
Wilson Supervisor Joseph A. Jastrzemski was at the meeting, and he said that when Horanburg asked point-blank if the hospital was going to close, “Their response was, ‘There has been no decision made.’ ”
Jastrzemski said, “Tim let it be known very passionately and very professionally that he would do whatever he had to to keep the hospital open.”
“I understand closure is one of the options,” Cambria Supervisor Wright H. Ellis said. “That would certainly be a significant loss for our town.”
“We want to be at the table when those decisions are made,” Engert said.
For residents of rural northern Niagara County, “That hospital, especially in an emergency situation, could be the difference between life and death,” Jastrzemski said.
Eastern Niagara Hospital is building a $3 million outpatient surgery center on South Transit Road in Lockport, expected to open this summer. The hospital did not hold a fund drive to pay for that.
Besides the Newfane hospital and the 134-bed Lockport hospital, which collectively employ 800 people, Eastern Niagara Health System owns the 175-bed Newfane Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, a nursing home.
Moore said she was unable to provide current financial information about the hospitals. The most recent IRS filings available online are from 2011. At that time, the Lockport site was in the black and the Newfane site was losing money.