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Sun., Nov. 23
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Gray recommends establishing consultant relationship with St. Lawrence Health Systems

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MASSENA - Massena Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray is recommending that the town begins discussions about establishing a consultant relationship with St. Lawrence Health Systems in an effort to cure Massena Memorial Hospital’s woes.

In a letter to the editor released Tuesday, Mr. Gray said he has had several meetings with representatives from St. Lawrence Health Systems, the parent company that owns and operates Canton-Potsdam and Gouverneur hospitals.

“St. Lawrence Health Systems is setting a new standard for health care in St. Lawrence County and I believe the town of Massena should immediately seek to establish a relationship with this corporation,” Mr. Gray said.

“That relationship could take several different forms, but its seems that making SLHS an affiliation consultant to MMH would enable us to collectively look at ways to quickly improve Massena Memorial’s financial performance and assure its standard of care remains high and even possibly improves,” he said.

Mr. Gray said he plans to begin discussions with the Massena Town Council, hospital Board of Mangers and staff, organized labor and the Massena community.

“We are at a crucial point in planning the future of our community hospital, and we must get MMH’s financial house in order before we can make a decision to remain public or convert to a private, not-for-profit status similar to more than 99 percent of the hospitals in New York state,” he said.

Following is Mr. Gray’s complete statement:

Just over four years ago, I began looking at the operation of Massena Memorial Hospital. I am not, by any means, an expert on health care but it looked to me that the hospital needed to examine its operations and begin making adjustments.

The foremost concern that I had, as pointed out by the Town’s bookkeeper, Nancy Fregoe, was that the hospital was headed toward a crisis when it came to its annual payment to the New York State Pension System. Those payments, already very large and increasing dramatically each year, were only exacerbated as MMH added doctors to the hospital staff and the pension system.

I voiced our concern to the MMH Board of Managers President at the time and CEO Charles Fahd, and suggested an alternative scenario whereby MMH would contract with a closely allied corporation which would in turn hire the doctors and keep them off the hospital’s payroll. I said that I believed MMH was building a business model it could not sustain. The board president and the CEO said I was wrong.

As it turns out, I was right. It was then I decided that change was needed at the hospital and on its board of managers. The Massena Town Supervisor has the sole responsibility to appointment the MMH Board of Managers, so I set out to make changes where appropriate.

Like my predecessors, I walked a fine line between carrying out my fiduciary responsibility and being accused of trying to “micro-manage” the hospital. Some of my appointments worked to carry out the changes I sought at MMH and some did not.

Fast forward to today and the dreaded pension crisis is upon us, but it is only one of the challenges facing Massena Memorial Hospital. We can’t blame the New York State Pension System - which I believe is in need of a major overhaul, by the way - for all of the financial problems at the hospital.

A persistent and damaging billing problem threatens the hospital’s financial stability, as do systematic changes in health care brought about by the Affordable Care Act (also called Obamacare). Some of these changes have dramatically reduced revenue streams for the hospital. Additionally, the closure of General Motors and cutbacks at Alcoa have reduced the amount of private insurance monies coming into MMH. Couple these changes with inefficiencies at MMH - the hospital’s failure to be proactive in addressing budgetary items like employee health insurance, staffing, physicians’ insurance credentialing, and costly performances of clinics like the kidney dialysis unit - have created a perfect financial storm which threatens the very existence of our municipally-owned hospital.

That is why, over the past few weeks, I have had several meetings with representatives from St. Lawrence Health Systems, the parent company which owns and operates Canton Potsdam and Gouverneur Hospitals.

St. Lawrence Health Systems is setting a new standard for health care in St. Lawrence County and I believe the Town of Massena should immediately seek to establish a relationship with this corporation. That relationship could take several different forms, but its seems that making SLHS an affiliation consultant to MMH would enable us to collectively look at ways to quickly improve Massena Memorial’s financial performance and assure its standard of care remains high and even possibly improves.

I plan to begin these discussions with the Town Council, MMH’s Board of Managers and staff, organized labor and the Massena community. We are at a crucial point in planning the future of our community hospital, and we must get MMH’s financial house in order before we can make a decision to remain public or convert to a private, not-for-profit status similar to more than 99 percent of the hospitals in New York State.

I look forward to our dialogue and ultimately arriving at our goal of ensuring that Massena Hospital is here taking care of our families and for friends for many years to come.

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