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Group pushes to keep Massena hospital public

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MASSENA — A local group is campaigning to keep Massena Memorial Hospital public.

The My MMH Community Coalition is urging taxpayers to tell Town Council members “Massena Memorial is our community’s hospital.”

Coalition members are also encouraging residents via Facebook and a website to sign a petition.

The group drafted a letter for residents to send to town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray and Councilmen Robert J. Cunningham, John F. Macaulay, Albert N. Nicola and Charles A. Raiti, indicating it’s using the petition “to register my opposition to privatizing our community hospital, MMH.”

By privatizing, coalition members said, residents would be giving up control over the hospital, accountability for patient care, health care services not seen as “profitable,” retirement security for workers, good-paying middle-class jobs and “wages that get recycled into our community’s businesses.”

“Please don’t let our community hospital go private,” the proposed letter reads. “I want to continue MY ownership of OUR public hospital.”

The coalition also has a petition people can sign at www.change.org/petitions/keep-mmh-public. Its Facebook page is at www.facebook.com/ourmmh?fref=ts.

Civil Service Employees Association spokesman Mark M. Kotzin said everyone should be concerned about the hospital’s potential privatization.

The CSEA represents hospital employees who are not nurses.

“In a nutshell, right now this hospital belongs to every single taxpayer in the town of Massena. It’s their hospital. They have control over its destiny, control of the quality of care provided, control of what services are provided or not provided. The hospital really belongs to the community,” he said.

Mr. Kotzin said he has been working with hospital employees who belong to CSEA.

“Basically, they are in the process of trying to build a community coalition against the potential privatization or sale of the hospital. We’re just starting our efforts to find community members that support us,” he said.

Last week, the online petition had 387 signatures after its first few days.

Mr. Kotzin said it’s an effort “to educate people and remind them, if this has value to you, you need to speak up for it. Otherwise it may disappear. It’s happened in other places. Privatization is a quick-fix solution; it doesn’t always mean it’s the best solution for the community,” he said.

Faced with possible revenue cuts of $2 million per year, Massena Memorial Hospital officials are exploring the possibility of turning the hospital into a private nonprofit corporation.

Privatization could save the hospital the costs of paying into the state employees retirement fund.

If the hospital were to switch to a contributory pension system, such as a 401(k) plan, the amount an employee contributes to the plan would define his or her retirement benefits.

Hospital officials have said that in 2002 the hospital paid $149,000 into the state pension plan, compared with the more than $3.8 million in 2012 and $4.8 million this year.

Hospital officials have said they are considering all their options to compensate for a slew of federal cuts that may reduce the hospital’s revenue by approximately $15 million over the next 10 years.

But, Mr. Kotzin said, options other than privatization are available.

“We understand that there are financial issues that need to be addressed. On behalf of the workers at the hospital, we put forth ideas for saving money,” Mr. Kotzin said.

Erin Silk, a spokeswoman for the New York State Nurses Association, said her organization was also “working very closely with CSEA” on the effort.

“When hospitals privatize, they often look to close down less profitable units. Valuable services could be lost for those in the community,” she said.

Supervisor Gray said he understands the concerns but has received no input after soliciting thoughts from hospital employees for saving money.

“We don’t know that privatization is going to be a viable option,” he said. “We don’t know if it’s the best option. But the option has to be investigated.”

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