Hospital staffing still up in air

Town of Massena officials say it’s too early to determine how many employees will remain at Massena Memorial Hospital after its acquisition by St. Lawrence Health System. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — Town of Massena officials say it’s too early to determine how many employees will remain at Massena Memorial Hospital after its acquisition by St. Lawrence Health System.

Council members had passed a resolution on Dec. 16, 2015, authorizing the hospital’s Board of Managers to begin the process to convert to a nonprofit hospital. The resolution noted that the town’s approval was contingent on the hospital agreeing to use its best efforts to maintain overall employment at the current level at the time.

“We empowered the Massena Memorial Hospital Board of Managers to start looking at affiliates. We set some criteria,” and one of them was to guarantee 345 jobs for three years, Town Supervisor Steven D. O’Shaughnessy said.

Massena Memorial Hospital currently has 450 employees. How many employees would remain after the acquisition and the conversion of their benefits were among the questions some audience members had during the Massena Town Council’s special meeting on Tuesday.

Robert Elsner, a retired Massena Memorial Hospital employee who is running for a town council seat, wondered about the transfer of health care and pensions once the town no longer owned the hospital. Mr. O’Shaughnessy said those would remain in place as long as the town owned the hospital.

What happens after the town no longer owns the hospital is the question that still needs to be answered, Councilman Samuel D. Carbone Jr. said.

“Many things have changed over the years since then. We don’t know. It’s hard to say where we’re at with that,” he said.

Town Attorney Eric Gustafson said the 2015 resolution can be overridden by passing a new resolution, which would revoke the 2015 version and set new criteria.

“(The 2015 resolution) doesn’t have the force of law. The board is entitled to take current circumstances into account. That resolution was set for the standards that were the aspiration to what we hoped to accomplish. The town board set an aspirational goal of what they would like to see in a transfer. There’s nothing magic about that process under the town law,” he said.

He also noted that the number of employees was managed by someone other than the Massena Town Council.

The hospital’s Board of Managers, Massena Town Council and St. Lawrence Health System have signed an agreement to convert Massena Memorial from a public to private, nonprofit hospital that would become part of St. Lawrence Health System, along with Canton-Potsdam and Gouverneur hospitals. Under that deal, St. Lawrence Health System will assume Massena Memorial’s current long-term debts and liabilities.

Massena Memorial will receive a $20 million grant, which is contingent on St. Lawrence Health System creating an entirely new nonprofit entity that will acquire Massena’s assets and operate the hospital as part of the St. Lawrence Health System. The grant funding comes from the state’s Health Care Facility Transformation Fund, and will be used to help bolster the hospital’s financial situation and advance efforts to make sure Massena and the surrounding area continue to receive health care services locally.

St. Lawrence Health System will also be providing Massena Memorial Hospital with $2.8 million to help pay the hospital’s short-term expenditures. The Dormitory Authority of the State of New York is lending the $2.8 million to St. Lawrence Health System, and that money will be used as a line of credit for Massena Memorial. The hospital will repay the money using the $20 million grant funding.

In addition, St. Lawrence Health System has committed to fund $8 million into the hospital’s operation.

By the Numbers

n CURRENTLY: Massena hospital has 450 employees

n THE PAST: Town council members passed a resolution in 2015 that required the hospital to use its best efforts to maintain overall employment at the 345 full-time equivalent employees at the time for three years

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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