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MMH Board of Managers says failure to decide hospital’s status exposes Massena taxpayers to substantial risk

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MASSENA - The Massena Memorial Hospital Board of Managers released the following statement Tuesday regarding the future of the facility and conversations that have occurred recently with St. Lawrence Health Systems.

Massena Town Supervisor Joe Gray has announced that he has had private, independent conversations with St. Lawrence Health Systems about ways that they might partner with Massena Memorial Hospital as a means to solve our pressing and growing financial dilemma. It is important to keep in mind, however, that no formal efforts to change MMH’s day-to-day operations or structure can be undertaken without the approval of the MMH Board of Managers, whom to date, have not been consulted on this most recent issue.

While we, MMH Board of Managers, continue to believe that the best option for maintaining MMH as a full service community hospital is to transition to nonprofit status, we remain committed to discussing all options and ideas. This includes the concept of partnering with larger health care systems. However, several crucial challenges to any such affiliation still exist, even with respect to the suggestions Mr. Gray has outlined thus far. Those challenges include the following:

• State law bars the mingling of public and private funds. Other health care systems simply cannot work with us in a meaningfully collaborative way if we remain a public entity.

• The challenge of our $4 million pension obligation still must be addressed. An affiliation with another system will not relieve that financial burden. In fact, it is likely to be a deterrent to finding a partner if it remains in place.

• Although their consent may not formally be required, the input of the Hospital’s medical staff should be sought, as they play a vital role in the delivery of our health care services.

• This year, we face a deficit of $2.3 million through July 2014 and growing. Next year’s deficit is projected to be as a public entity $3.75 million in the red, but will be even bigger if Medicare reimbursements and other revenue continue to decline. For every month the decision is deferred, MMH continues to spend $350,000 monthly toward the projected retirement pension. If MMH continues to be a municipal hospital that cannot sustain itself, the financial burden will ultimately fall on the tax payers. Currently there are 6,073 Town of Massena tax payers on the tax roles that pay town/county taxes. The average assessed household value is $69,500. These taxpayers would see an average increase of $617.49 per year. By means of another example, if your home is assessed for $140,000, you could potentially pay an additional $1,243.86 in your annual town/country taxes.

• MMH has been contacted by other New York North Country hospitals that have stated significant interest in “partnering” for the future with us. While local healthcare entities may be viable options, it would be short sighted not to review all potential partners before a decision is made.

As noted above, we cannot move forward until we resolve our current status. Time is not on our side. At the existing rate, we will be insolvent by late 2015 if we do not act. We can argue about the best means to act, but act we must. The numbers do not lie. The MMH Board of Managers has been committed to a cooperative and open process, including holding numerous meetings throughout the community, reporting on the findings from those meetings, and consulting with elected officials at every turn. We are concerned that the sudden introduction of a bold scheme to partner with another specific healthcare system will delay the crucial deliberations by the Town Board about the Hospital’s status. Rather than make the hard decisions necessary to save the Hospital, we can continue to kick the can down the road as ever bolder and more imaginative schemes are floated. But if we are to preserve this institution – its service to the community, its 400 jobs, and its role as a civic anchor — we are running out of roadway.

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