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MMH Board of Managers chair says decision to form joint committee was ‘a little premature’


MASSENA - The chairman of Massena Memorial’s Board of Managers says that he has not yet fully evaluated a plan unveiled Thursday night by Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray to form a joint committee with representation from the major players at facility to study the future of the municipal hospital.

“We haven’t come to any conclusion (at the hospital), that’s why we think it’s a little premature to come and make the joint committee,” Mr. Spanburgh said.

He later stepped his position back a bit. “At this time I really haven’t taken a close look at (the e-mail) and am not sure what to think,” the board chair pointed out.

Mr. Gray sent an e-mail to the parties involved Thursday evening announcing the formation of the committee and asking each party to appoint representatives. “Participation on this committee isn’t a request. It will be formed and will convene before the end of September. We will meet behind closed doors to facilitate a frank and productive discussion,” Mr. Gray said.

“All parties will be represented and the public will be kept fully informed throughout the process. As I have said repeatedly, we don’t yet know if which direction the hospital will move in the future but the public and Massena taxpayers can rest assured the town council has no intentions of closing the hospital or selling it to some outside corporation,” he added.

The committee will look at numerous options for MMH’s future and everything will be on the table: vendor and employee contract issues, the budgetary impacts of salaries and benefits for all hospital employees, the profitability and necessity of various hospital clinics, physician performance, hospital expenditures and MMH board decisions and how they impact the hospital’s bottom line.

Meanwhile, Massena Memorial Hospital officials agreed last month to retain Hancock Estabrook, LLP, a Syracuse law firm, to explore transitioning from a municipal hospital to a private, non-for-profit facility.

Hospital board members had agreed at their July meeting to hire the law firm at a cost not to exceed $100,000 for the study. The study will consist of three phases. Phase one will include the study of all contracts, such as vendors and employees, to see if anything would prohibit them from changing their status.

Phase two would be the implementation phase. Following approval from the Massena Town Council, they could start filing the paperwork such as the Certificate of Need to begin the conversion process.

The third and final phase would be going through the Internal Revenue Service to acquire their tax-exempt status.

Phase one could take two to three months, according to estimates, while phase two could take one to two months and phase three could go from four to six months.

Mr. Gray said members of the committee he is forming need to be committed to the truth and accepting the final outcome of its work whether the results meet with their personal favor.

“We have a great hospital with a superior staff and a dedicated group of volunteers who serve on the MMH Board. I am convinced that if we all come with open minds and put our heads together, we can find a workable scenario that guarantees Massena Memorial Hospital will continue providing top-quality care and great employment opportunities for many years to come,” Mr. Gray said.

The Massena town supervisor said the committee will include members of the Massena Town Council, MMH Board of Managers, hospital management, and local representatives from the Civil Service Employees Union (CSEA) and the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA).

The plan has the support of Massena Town Councilman John F. Macaulay.

Mr. Macaulay, a Democrat, is the lone member of the board not up for election this year. Mr. Gray is a Republican.

“He’s got my support on this. The board has said all along that we need to have good communications on these things,” he said. “We’ve asked people to tone down the rhetoric but that doesn’t seem to be helping. People seem to be making assertions. Joe wants to get everyone in the same room and talk about what changes needed to be made to keep it public or if it ends up going private, whichever way it goes. He’s got my total support.”

Mr. Gray said that he has actually been considering forming the committee for a couple of months, after listening to hospital employees’ concerns. He had suggested that they meet with hospital management but said he does not believe that has happened yet.

“I also had a discussion with a hospital board representative and said they should be more proactive with the public, in educating them with the issue. Frankly, I didn’t see a lot of progress on that either,” Mr. Gray said. “I found out that members of the town board felt the same way during the August board meeting. I thought more about it and decided to make the committee.”

While the committee may expand, Mr. Gray’s plan for now includes two town board members, two hospital board members, two hospital administrators, and one member of the CSEA and NYSNA.

He challenged Mr. Spanburgh’s assertion that it might be premature to form the committee. “We should have a committee before we make a decision. If we’re interested in hearing from everyone, and keeping an open mind, I think the committee should come before the decision,” Mr. Gray said.

CSEA spokesperson Mark Kotzin also expressed some concerns with the committee, noting the unions are only being given one representative each.

“We are quite concerned about equal representation on the committee,” he said, adding he has made Mr. Gray aware of their concerns.

“We’ll work that out with the supervisor,” he said, adding that the union feels like the committee is a step in the right direction.

“Our overall goal is to work with the administration to save Massena Memorial and avoid giving up public ownership of the hospital,” he said. “We’re supportive of the committee and hope it is a step in the right direction.”

Looking at a projected $15 million loss in reimbursements over the next 10 years and a directive by the state commissioner of health to explore options such as collaborating, affiliating, merging or sharing with other facilities, hospital CEO Charles F. Fahd II has said Massena Memorial Hospital has no choice but to investigate converting from a municipal hospital to a private, not-for-profit facility.

He has said the facility’s options as a municipal hospital are limited, and it cannot absorb the projected losses they’re facing in the years ahead.

Mr. Fahd said, as a result of the federal Accountable Care Act, which took effect in April, the hospital expects to see a reduction of more than $10.5 million in Medicare reimbursement, or $1.05 million a year, over the next 10 years.

The hospital is also facing a $1.9 million reduction in Medicaid reimbursement, or $193,000 annually, over the next 10 years as a result of sequestration.

In addition, he said, it is looking at a $2.7 million reduction in Medicaid reimbursement, or $265,000 annually, over the next 10 years because of inpatient coding adjustments.

On top of that, he said, the hospital’s contributions to the state’s pension program was $124,200 for approximately 350 employees in 2002. That skyrocketed to $3.8 million in 2012, and their contribution in December 2013 will be $4.4 million. Mr. Fahd said the state is projecting that the hospital’s December 2014 contribution for the more than 400 employees will be $4.8 million.

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