MASSENA - The director of Member Benefits and Community Relations for CSEA told supporters of keeping Massena Memorial Hospital that they need to continue to lobby elected officials to place a referendum on the ballot to give community residents an opportunity to vote on any proposal to turn the municipal hospital into a private not-for-profit facility.
Sean Egan urged the just over a dozen people attending a MMH Coalition meeting Tuesday night at Dars to encourage their friends and family members to come to the next Massena Town Board meeting on Sept. 18 and urged local officials to put the issue up for a public vote.
I encourage all of you (to) go back home tonight, talk to your neighbors, talk to your friends, have them come to the next town board meeting. You need to talk to anybody who might support us. I think you need to go out and all of you start writing letters to the editors of the local newspapers and say, This is what our position is. You need to keep this in the mind set of the papers that this is still out there, Mr. Egan said.
Right now under the law, theres nothing that we can find that we can force them at this point in time to have a referendum. The board is going to make the final decision, not the hospital board, the town board. So the town board doesnt need a referendum, they can either just vote no or vote yes. If we want a more democratic process, we have to figure out a way to have a referendum, he added.
The hospitals Board of Managers, working with hospital CEO Charles F. Fahd, have authorized funding a study on the benefits of moving from a town-owned entity to a private, not-for-profit hospital. Opponents of that plan have shared their concerns with town board members at their last two meetings and la number of Its My MMH signs that have been planted through the hospitals service area in recent months.
MMH officials have said the study on privatization is being driven by escalating pension costs, but Mr. Egan isnt buying it.
Theres not a ton of (public hospitals) out there but they are out there. They can survive and they are surviving. The main reason theyre saying they want to go private is because they cant afford pension costs, which is less than your health insurance cost. But theyve made no effort to try to keep the health insurance costs down, even when we offered it to them, he said. I would argue that public or private, the reality is if that goes private, youre going to see wages cut, youre going to see pensions lost, youre going to see health care cost go up dramatically, which is going to take money out of the community.
Mr. Fahd has said that what was a $124,200 contribution to the states pension program in 2002 has increased to $4.4 million in December 2013. This also includes a projected contribution of $4.8 million in December 2014.
Former Town Supervisor W. Gary Edwards suggested even if the town board voted to turn the hospital into a private not-for-profit facility there could still be a public referendum.
A lady in Canton told me that there are two types of referendums. One is a mandatory one. Under the mandatory one you dont have to go out and get signatures or anything. When they pass the law or make it so were not going to fight this anymore, were going to do what the hospital wants to do; it becomes automatic that you have a public referendum, Mr. Edwards said.
In response to Mr. Edwards suggestion, Mr. Egan urged someone in the audience to obtain a copy of the town laws.
Someone get me a copy of the town charter and Ill have our lawyers look at it and see whether or not we can create a referendum, he said. If someone gets a copy of that, well look at it. Thats one option. The next option is just continuing public pressure in hopes that we would have this room filled with tons and tons of people saying, We want to keep the hospital public.
Among the many who were expressing their concern with the looming potential of privatization was Karen Seeber.
If we do go private, some of us could lose up to 20 percent of our salary. Thats big money to me, she said. If this were to happen, we could lose our homes. I wouldnt be able to keep my house. I worked hard to have my house. I wouldnt be able to keep it.
Mr. Egan made it clear that the coalition should have two short-term goals - using word of mouth to get more voices raising concern with the plan and demanding an independent review of the issue.
Also, I think I would write letters to the town board saying, Look, there should be one other consideration you should think about if you were to go private. The people that are making decisions should exclude themselves from any future consideration. That way we would know we would have an honest decision made that was based on what was good for the hospital, Mr. Egan said.
The final decision is made by the town. (Joseph) Gray and (John) Macaulay and those people made it very clear that theyre going to go with whatever Fahd says has to be done. So unless theres an election going on, its going to be somewhat difficult, he added.
We dont care whether youre Republican or whether youre Democrat. We will interview each one and lets say theres an election, we want to be able to interview the candidates and ask them what their position is on keeping the hospital public. I figure if we dont have opposition, then (Gray and Macaulay) can do whatever they want without any pressure. The bottom line is I dont care whether youre Democrat or Republican, you need pressure to make decisions, to get things done, Mr. Egan said.