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When Lake Shore Health Care Center in Irving closes Jan. 31, many residents in need of an emergency room will have to drive longer distances for treatment of their medical emergencies, according to a Chautauqua County legislator.

“We can measure Lake Shore’s closing in lost jobs and in people’s lives,” said Legislator George Borrello, R-Irving.

Those needing mental health care will have to travel farther, too, but still might struggle to find the help they need.

“I am really worried about services that have been provided by the behavioral health unit,” said Christine Schuyler, director of the county Department of Health and Human Services.

She said Lake Shore’s unit has 24 inpatient beds. Another nearby place for inpatient mental health services is at WCA in Jamestown. But patients already fill that facility most of the time, she said.

“The residents of the northern area of the county and even Erie County and Cattaraugus County who need mental health services will suffer with the loss of those beds,” she said.

Hospital officials announced Lake Shore’s closing Wednesday, leaving 460 employees without jobs and eliminating one of Chautauqua County’s largest employers.

The facility also has 120 beds for long-term care. The health care center includes an emergency room and a residential program for rehabilitation of women’s chemical dependency.

“Many people are dependent on the facility, including those in the Seneca Nation,” Borrello said.

Patients at Lake Shore at the time of closing will be transferred to Brooks Memorial Hospital in Dunkirk, and those in the program for long-term care will be relocated to other facilities with skilled-nursing services.

The health care center is an affiliate of Lake Erie Regional Health System of New York, which has struggled financially since 2008 when it formed through the merger of Brooks Memorial and TLC Health Network, which operates Lake Shore and Gowanda Urgent Care & Medical Center.

“This came as a shock to everyone. We knew about the financial problems, but no one expected this,” Borrello said.

The health care center is expected to lose $7 million this year, following losses in the last few years, said Scott Butler, vice president of community relations for Lake Erie Regional.

Lake Shore’s losses – combined with declining numbers of patients, decreasing reimbursement rates, increasing government mandates and unrealized benefits of the consolidation in the larger health system – threatened the imminent bankruptcy of both Brooks Memorial Hospital and TLC Health Network, according to a statement from Christopher Lanski, chairman of Lake Erie Regional’s board of directors.

The board decided to close Lake Shore during a meeting Tuesday.

“This was a difficult decision that needed to be made, and we feel deeply for every community member and employee that this move will negatively impact,” Lanski said.

“However, we strongly believe this was the only decision that would allow us to continue providing health services in other parts of our community through Brooks Memorial Hospital and our urgent and primary care facilities, and we pledge to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone involved,” he said.

A telephone hotline will be set up for workers to call with questions.

Lanski said the board requested a 90-day period to attempt to find a buyer for the Lake Shore campus and services.

That time can be used to find buyers to take over at least some of the services, such as the emergency room and long-term-care facility, he said.

Ninety days, however, is not much time to find a solution, Borrello said.

He said he and others spoke with state officials about possible alternatives.

Lake Erie Regional officials said they took measures to turn around the organization, including hiring a new chief financial officer to restructure operations, consolidating departments, and implementing stringent cost-control measures.

The actions, however, were not enough to save the health care center, they said.

Schuyler said she hoped doctors in the area would help be part of the solution to ensure that medical services are provided to residents.

“I don’t know what will happen without those critically needed mental health beds, as well as the services of mental health evaluation done at the emergency room at Lake Shore,” she said.

email: hdavis@buffnews.com