MASSENA - The fate of Massena Memorial Hospital was again a topic of interest at Wednesday nights town board meeting, but it marked briefest discussion to date since supporters of the hospital remaining a municipal entity began attending and speaking at town board meetings.
Last month we spent an hour discussing the hospital, said Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray, who noted that 15 minutes of comment would be set aside to discuss the hospital, with 15 minutes also being set aside for additional public comments.
While many of the comments at previous meetings have been critical of the hospital leadership and the town board, much of Wednesdays discussion centered around the formation of a committee by Mr. Gray to explore the hospitals future.
I want to thank you for bringing forth the committee youre forming, said Jason Garcia, who works at the hospital. Its a great idea.
While the committee is slated to include representatives from the town board, hospital board, hospital administration, and local representatives from both the Civil Service Employees Union and New York State Nurses Association, Mr. Garcia also suggested including some members of middle management.
Currently there are members of middle management at the hospital who do not support privatization, he said. These are the people who have their finger on the pulse of the hospital.
However, at this time, Mr. Garcia said theyre afraid to speak publicly.
Theyre afraid to speak out out of fear of losing their jobs or being reprimanded, he said. I really think that they, of all the people in the hospital, even the unions and upper management, need to be heard.
Despite the announcement by Mr. Gray last week that he has forming the committee to explore Massena Memorials future, the town supervisor said he has only heard from one person interested in serving on it.
Ive had one volunteer so far, he said.
Mr. Gray also addressed the concerns voiced by Mr. Garcia about retaliation from the hospital board or administrators.
Nobody is going to lose their job because they speak out, he said. Thats what America is all about.
Former Town Supervisor Gary Edwards applauded Mr. Gray for his formation of the committee.
I wish you would have made the decision sooner, he said, adding that he wasnt pleased with the comments from hospital board Chairman Andrew Spanburgh that the formation of a committee was a little premature.
Mr. Gray said he decided to form the committee after a meeting with hospital administration this past spring, where he told them they needed to be open with the public; and a meeting with union representatives from the hospital, where he told them they needed to speak with management.
None of those things happened, Mr. Gray said.
Mr. Edwards called the committees formation a new beginning for the future of the hospital.
Unfortunately though, Town Councilman John F. Macaulay noted that the committee wont actually have any authority to require to the hospital or the town board to do anything.
This committee, by state law, will absolutely have no authority, he said. Unless the hospital and the employee unions are willing to open up contract negotiations, none of those suggestions are worth anything.
Mr. Garcia, who is a union rep at the hospital, said members of the CSEA unit are willing to open up their contracts, however, hospital administration is not willing to enter into negotiations with them.
Should privatization end up taking place, Mr. Gray said the town board has the power to require any firm taking over the hospital to retain its current employees.
Im willing to go out on a limb this far and say there will be a stipulation on any transfer that the staff should remain, he said.
Mr. Macaulay agreed, There are a lot of things with privatization that the town has control over, such as this.
Mr. Gray, who at one point received a round of applause during the discussion, also said that should a corporation end up taking over the hospital, he expects the taxpayers of Massena to be compensated for the hospitals assets.
I believe the taxpayers are owed the value of the hospitals assets if it is transferred to a private corporation, he said.
Gloria Dupree said she has heard a rumor that an outside firm is attempting to buy the hospitals dialysis center.
The dialysis unite at Alice Hyde has been sold and now theyre coming for the MMH dialysis unit, she said. There is one entity that wants all the dialysis units in the area.
Ms. Dupree said she would support the sale, noting that would provide the hospital with much needed revenue that could possibly be used to pay for increased pension costs.
They couldnt sell it without our approval, Mr. Gray said, adding that if they did sell it he would like to see the stipulation added to the sale that it stays here and it stays open.