Much at stake in Massena hospital vote

When they head to the polls on Tuesday, town of Massena voters will be asked, “Shall the Town of Massena transfer the real estate used in the operations of Massena Memorial Hospital to the St. Lawrence Health System or an entity controlled thereby?” Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — When voters head to the polls on Tuesday, a lot is at stake for Massena Memorial Hospital — jobs and continued health care for local residents.

Town of Massena voters will be asked, “Shall the Town of Massena transfer the real estate used in the operations of Massena Memorial Hospital to the St. Lawrence Health System or an entity controlled thereby?”

A majority yes vote means an infusion of $20 million from the state and $8 million from St. Lawrence Health System as Massena Memorial continues to move forward in stabilizing its finances. It also means jobs that are in Massena stay in Massena.

Chief Executive Officer David Bender said they’re moving in the right direction.

“There’s room for optimism,” he said. “We have cut our operating debt by over half. We’re still not stable yet. We need the $20 million and the $8 million. That’s a huge piece. That’s what the transformation really gives us. It’s a chance to get ahead of ourselves on some of the capital needs. If we had to stop right now, we’re right back where we started. We know we’re on the right track.”

Without that assistance, the hospital’s doors would be closed, impacting more than 400 employees.

“To me, it’s not a political vote,” said Tina Corcoran, the hospital’s senior director of public relations, planning and physician recruitment. “It’s for people to go in there and make a decision on two major things for our community. One is for jobs. Two is continued health care. When I say jobs, we’re the second-largest employer here in Massena and our community has open wounds for how we’ve lost so many jobs over the last two decades. We cannot afford that. Jobs are a huge thing.”

She said that, out of the hospital’s 400-plus employees, 267 live in the 13662 zip code of Massena and Louisville. Another 175 to 200 live in Brasher, Norfolk, Norwood and Hogansburg.

“It’s going to affect all of our neighboring communities,” Mrs. Corcoran said. “So whether people live here or they have family members that live here, they need to encourage them to continue Massena Memorial Hospital. It’s their future.”

Like Mr. Bender, she said they’re moving in the right direction.

“We’ve made some changes for the better already,” she said.

One of the changes was to partner with St. Lawrence Health System for operation of Massena Memorial’s emergency room.

“We’re having better continuity of care,” Mrs. Corcoran said. “We know what we can handle here and what needs to be moved forward (to another facility). It’s a great system for us to be part of.”

With industries such as the New York Power Authority, St. Lawrence Seaway, Alcoa and Arconic, the local emergency room carries even more importance in case of a medical incident.

“Our ER is not only dependent on the people we serve in the community, but you have to think of our industries,” Mrs. Corcoran said.

Now, she said, it’s time to move forward and ensure the hospital continues to serve the needs of the local communities.

“We’ve done a lot of things over the years to assess what the community needs and we’ve had financial troubles over the last three to five years,” she said. “So we do need some changes. There’s been some plan laid out for us to make changes. We’re getting support from the state. This affiliation will help us be stronger. It will help bring more specialists to our community and to share a vision that we can move forward.”

She noted that three of the hospital’s clinics alone saw 30,592 visits in 2018.

“That’s doctor visits. That’s why we need to continue,” she said.

In addition, Mr. Bender said, Massena is the closest facility to handle overflow from Canton-Potsdam Hospital.

“It would be a disaster” if residents didn’t support the sale of the hospital’s assets on Tuesday, he said.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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