NEWFANE – Eastern Niagara Hospital announced Wednesday that it plans to transfer all inpatient and surgical services now offered at its Newfane site to its Lockport location, leaving Newfane with a 24-hour emergency room and some outpatient services.
As a result of the changes, which will take effect in 60 to 90 days, about half of the roughly 123 employees at Newfane will be laid off. Many of the others will be transferred to Lockport.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” Newfane Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg said. “It needs to be a hospital, like it always has been.”
“I think it’s a very sad day for our community,” said Daniel M. Engert, supervisor of the neighboring Town of Somerset. “Newfane Hospital, despite what they said, is essentially being closed. A hospital is defined by its ability to admit and care for patients, and if it can’t, it’s a clinic.”
“I don’t know where he’s getting these definitions from,” said Clare A. Haar, the hospital’s chief executive officer. “We want to maintain an emergency room, and that will accommodate ambulances.”
Engert said, “The expectation will be if the EMTs (emergency medical technicians) decide en route that a patient needs definite care or surgery, then they go directly to the Lockport site. That puts a lot of pressure on our volunteers.”
Haar said, “It’s not putting pressure on the EMTs. The hospital will be providing medical guidance.” She said a direct ride to Lockport in critical cases will avoid putting patients “through two ambulance rides needlessly.”
She said that most emergency room patients arrive in private vehicles.
Financially, Haar said the hospital system lost $1.7 million in the first five months of this year.
Lockport attorney George V.C. Muscato, chairman of the hospital board, said earlier this week that the Eastern Niagara system had been in the black for 10 years in a row, through 2013, and started losing money in the past few months.
“I can’t speak to that, because they wouldn’t let us look at their books,” Horanburg said.
Muscato said, “Eastern Niagara Hospital will no longer be able to remain viable if it continues operating two separate acute care facilities with duplicative services.”
Newfane will offer dialysis, blood draws, radiology and physical and occupational therapy.
Haar said, “Frankly, maintaining two sites nine miles apart has been quite a feat. We’ve been able to afford it up until now.”
She said there had been a slow decline in admissions for years, but there was a drastic drop starting in October.
Muscato blamed it in part on the Affordable Care Act. He said high-deductible Obamacare insurance policies have discouraged admissions.
“People don’t want to go to the hospital,” he said.
Haar said another government-caused financial problem has been Medicare’s new “two midnights” rule, which took effect in October. If a Medicare patient is in the hospital for less than two days, the hospital is reimbursed about one-fifth as much as it would be for a longer admission, Haar said.
Newfane, which is licensed for 71 beds and recently has been offering 63, has been averaging 12 to 15 inpatients per day, Haar said.
Lockport has 134 beds. It was formerly called Lockport Memorial Hospital and has been under common management with the former Inter-Community Memorial Hospital of Newfane for more than a decade, and a formal merger occurred in 2009. Eastern Niagara Hospital is a not-for-profit organization.
Of its workforce of 560 full-time equivalents, 123 were working at Newfane. That included 193 people: 88 full-time, 62 part-time and 43 per diem, in the wake of some layoffs in February.
Haar said the legal 90-day layoff notices were given to the unions representing Newfane employees Wednesday.
“I’m concerned about the job loss,” Horanburg said. “A lot of those workers were single mothers, supporting families in northern Niagara County. It’s a killer to lose any jobs, especially that many.”
The hospital is in talks with Kaleida and the Catholic Health System regarding possible alliances that would result in sharing services, Muscato said.
Engert said he sees no evidence that Eastern Niagara talked about sharing services that would benefit Newfane.
“That is disheartening to me, to make decisions without exploring every single option out there,” the Somerset supervisor said.
Haar responded, “The fact of the matter is, we are one legal entity, Eastern Niagara Hospital, operating two sites … It’s not a matter of what’s right for Newfane or what’s right for Lockport. That bridge was crossed in 2009. We’re merged. It’s what’s best for the whole eastern Niagara community.”