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MMH employees suggest becoming critical care facility

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MASSENA - Suggesting that the town board take on another study before making a decision on the future of Massena Memorial Hospital, a group of employees suggested Wednesday night that the hospital become a critical care facility with a 25-bed capacity, rather than continuing to maintain its current 50-bed capacity.

Denise Campbell suggested having an outside group not connected to the hospital or Civil Service Employees Association take a look at the hospital’s finances and ways it could possibly save money. Ms. Campbell is a CSEA labor relations specialist who works with members and union leadership, as well as hospital management at Lewis County General Hospital. She has been helping MMH’s CSEA unit throughout the past several months.

“The hospital keeps contradicting what we say and we keep contradicting what they say,” she said. “Hopefully, with an outside group we could get some true numbers.”

That statement didn’t sit well with Councilman John F. Macaulay, who interpreted the comment as an accusation of fraud.

“I don’t have a problem with doing a trove of studies. I have a problem when people are accusing people of fraud,” he said.

Ms. Campbell said that was not the intent behind her comment., “A third party could find something different.”

“Well then someone should go to jail,” he said.

Ms. Campbell also noted that when Lewis County General Hospital went through some difficult financial times it avoided laying people off.

“Lewis County didn’t have to cut staff because they’re not staffing for 50 beds,” she said suggesting that by becoming a 25-bed facility MMH could potentially save a lot of money.

“They’re not using the beds now,” she said. “A consultant could come in and look at whether they are truly hospital beds or observation beds.”

That suggestion appeared to draw the interest of Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray.

“So you have no problem changing the status to critical care?” he asked.

Mr. Macaulay said though one important piece of information was missing from Ms. Campbell’s presentation on Wednesday and that was the fact that Lewis County was supplementing the hospital with federal aid that Massena, as a township, would not be eligible for.

“The cash burning is accelerating,” he said, noting that according to the hospital’s latest financial reports they are down to $3.8 million in total cash reserves.

“I’m not against doing studies, because they give us good information, but we need to do something to get us by.”

CSEA representative Wayne Lincoln said that while Mr. Macaulay and members of the town board seem concerned with the hospital’s financial status, the hospital’s administrators and board themselves don’t seem to be.

“It’s been more than a year since this proposal and not one thing has been done at the hospital. They’re still spending money like crazy,” Mr. Lincoln said.

Mr. Macaulay responded to that statement by saying he was surprised the hospital had not yet laid anyone off.

“I question why they haven’t laid people off,” he said, noting 65 percent of the hospital’s budget is connected to salaries and benefits.

“When you say they’re spending money hand over fist, only 20 percent of their budget is discretionary,” he said.

CSEA member Daniel O’Keefe noted a suggestion was made to the hospital four years ago, something they have yet to do.

“I think that’s an important fact,” he said.

Tina Hatch, who is employed at MMH, agreed.

“If they would have changed insurance companies years ago, they would have some money,” she said.

Speaking about her own experience,” she noted several instances totaling thousands of dollars in benefits paid by the hospital’s self-insured plan, that in her eyes didn’t have to be paid.

“The hospital’s insurance company doesn’t negotiate bills,” she said. “There is a lot of money being spent that shouldn’t be.”

Deborah Kerr, another hospital employee of the who spoke at the meeting, questioned recent raises given to the hospital’s administration and non-union employees.

“If you’re trying to save money, why are the administrators receiving raises?” she asked, noting she did not receive a raise this year.

“You didn’t get raises, because you don’t have a contract,” Mr. Gray replied.

Ms. Kerr said, “That’s not the point.”

Mr. Macaulay said should another study be conducted he would like to see how the numbers play out if all of the hospital’s employees were to accept a pay freeze.

“I want a three-year wage freeze calculated,” he said.

No decision was made Wednesday about whether to conduct another study.

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