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Speakers suggest MMH not telling entire story about finances

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MASSENA — Speakers at a Monday meeting of the MMH Community Coalition suggested that Massena Memorial Hospital officials aren’t telling the entire story when they explain their reasons for wanting to turn the facility from a town-owned entity into a private, nonprofit hospital.

Speaking to more than 30 people, including members of the Civil Service Employee’s Union and the public during the meeting at Dar’s Place, speakers said the future isn’t as fiscally bleak as hospital officials are painting it.

Sean Egan, director of member benefits and community relations at CSEA’s headquarters in Albany, noted that hospital CEO Charles F. Fahd has given three reasons for turning the hospital into a private facility. Among them, he said, is pension costs that Mr. Fahd said continue to grow.

Mr. Fahd has said that what was a $124,200 contribution to the state’s pension program in 2002 will jump to $4.4 million in December and $4.8 million in December 2014.

Mr. Egan said Mr. Fahd’s statement was “somewhat correct.” He noted that a market drop in 2008-09 forced the state to raise the pension costs. But now, Mr. Egan said, the pension system is doing well and contributions are expected to drop.

“We’ll start seeing the pension costs go down,” he said.

Wayne Lincoln, vice president for CSEA Local 887 at the hospital, noted that the pension system had been paying for itself in the past.

“They didn’t pay anything for that pension for many, many years. They set money aside. Now they want to bail. The pension system was paying for itself,” he said.

Mr. Egan agreed.

“There were years when they were paying very little or nothing,” he said.

Providing a pension was important not only to the person receiving it, but also to the community, according to Mr. Egan.

“If you want this community to thrive, you need people with a good income,” he said.

Mr. Fahd has also said that among the projected losses is a reduction of $10.5 million in Medicare reimbursement over the next 10 years because of the federal Affordable Care Act; a $1.9 million reduction in Medicaid reimbursement over the next 10 years because of sequestration; and a $2.7 million reduction in Medicaid reimbursement over the next 10 years because of inpatient coding adjustments.

But Gary Storrs, a Washington, D.C.-based labor economist with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said the Affordable Care Act might actually benefit health care facilities, including Massena Memorial Hospital.

“Predictions are all over the map what effect it’s going to have,” he said.

However, he noted, hospital officials said they had approximately $3.2 million in bad debt write-off in 2012, and the Affordable Care Act means that number will go down as more people are insured.

Mr. Storrs noted that the hospital lost money in 2010 and 2012, but had surpluses in 2009 and 2011, suggesting that its finances weren’t as bad as hospital officials were saying.

“You’re not talking a failing institution. It is, we think, healthy and will continue to be healthy,” Mr. Storrs said. “The hospital’s rationale about the Affordable Care Act seems to be crying wolf or worst-case scenario.”

Mr. Egan said that, although members of the CSEA had an interest in keeping Massena Memorial as a public facility, it’s also in the best interest of the community. He noted that the hospital’s Dialysis Clinic was losing money and might end up on the chopping block if the hospital were a private facility or, in some cases, merge that service with one at another location. Both scenarios could mean longer drives for patients who need that service.

“If it goes private, do you think they’re going to keep services that are not making money?” he said.

Former Town Supervisor W. Gary Edwards suggested members of the MMH Community Coalition look at having a public referendum to allow residents to have a say. Mr. Egan said the group is researching that possibility.

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