SILVER CREEK – More than 1,000 people who crowded into the auditorium of Silver Creek Central School Saturday for a rally to keep Lake Shore Hospital from closing heard some encouraging news.
A primary force behind the rally, State Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, announced that $1 million in emergency state funding was secured Friday to keep the facility open while negotiations are underway for a new owner-operator at the facility. Young also said she has the support of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to keep the hospital open.
Among those joining Young onstage was Anthony Borrello, a local business owner who is in negotiations to purchase the hospital. Though Borello did not speak during the rally, he confirmed before the event that continuing negotiations are positive.
“Hopefully with the support of Sen. Young and the governor it won’t be long before we will be able to say this is a done deal,” said Borrello, who added that he has received positive responses from some big lenders.
“I am very optimistic that this is going to work,” said Borrello, who along with his daughter, Michelle, announced plans last year for a hotel and water park on land that is adjacent to the hospital.
Since the October announcement by the UPMC health care chain that the hospital would close, residents have been signing petitions and seeking support to save the facility.
First responders from area fire companies were among the strongest supporters. Jeff Griewisch, chief of Silver Creek Volunteer Fire Department and an emergency medical technician, told the audience that the hospital is crucial for local emergencies, especially crashes on the Thruway.
“We responded to a serious accident on the Thruway last summer – three of the people involved died – but seven lived because we were able to get them to Lake Shore,” he said.
Officials of Dayton, Perrysburg, Irving and Brant also were at the rally, as was Ross John of the Seneca Nation of Indians. John noted the issue was discussed during a meeting of the Seneca Nation Tribal Council Saturday and noted Seneca officials have been part of the talks to save the hospital. Officials estimate that about 20 percent of the patients at Lake Shore are residents of the Cattaraugus Reservation. “We are part of the regional area, and we want to bolster our relationship,” John said. “We are encouraging everyone to think creatively. We need to change people’s minds and put in a model of what health care should be in the future.”
Virginia Cooper, a Seneca Nation member and retired hospital nurse who serves on the hospital board, said she has “lost a lot of sleep over this issue,” and board members are actively looking for a solution.
Dr. James Wild, the hospital’s director of medicine, confirmed that the board has held many meetings lately in search of a solution. Wild, who has worked in local health care for more than 40 years, said that when Tri-County Hospital in Gowanda closed, it left a hole in local coverage.
“The plan was to have Lake Shore fill that hole,” he added,
Wild also noted the hospital recently hired new orthopedic and general surgeons, and that the emergency room is staffed by the same doctors who work at Kaleida Health’s Gates Vascular Institute. He also added that its emergency room is “state of the art,” upgraded recently with several-million dollars in state funding. The newly renovated emergency room debuted two months before the October closing announcement.
“I can never recall anyone saying that a hospital is doing well financially,” said Wild, responding to allegations that the hospital is losing money. “Imagine a business where you are told how much you can charge and if someone needs a service for free you have to provide it.”
Among other speakers were Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, who pledged support for the hospital.
Chautauqua County Legislator George Borrello, R-Silver Creek, who is related to Anthony Borrello, brought audience members to their feet several times. Borrello passed along a stack of petitions with signatures in support of saving the hospital.
“We have been collecting these for months at local restaurants and door-to-door,” said Borrello, adding that when UPMC officials announced the closing, “they thought ... we could be rolled over.”
“Well, we are not hayseeds,” he said.
Steve Spears, a mental health counselor who works in the 20-bed behavioral health unit at Lake Shore, told the crowd that current patients of that unit would have to go to WCA hospital in Jamestown or to Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo. He added that the WCA behavioral health unit is already at capacity, with four of its patients transferred this week to Lake Shore. He added that the wait for admission to Lake Shore takes much less time than either ECMC or WCA.
Young noted Lake Shore and satellite facilities account for 460 jobs, making it one of the largest employers in Chautauqua County.
New Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan said he had to “hit the ground running” because of the crisis. Wearing his old brown-leather Air Force “fighter jacket,” Horrigan said saving the hospital is at the top of his agenda.