MMH looking to shut down its critical care unit

Massena Memorial Hospital officials are asking for approval from the state Department of Health to close what they say is an underused Critical Care Unit. They said the closure is estimated to save more than $1 million a year. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — In another move to lower its expenses, Massena Memorial Hospital is asking the state Department of Health to allow the closure of the Critical Care Unit.

The hospital’s Board of Managers reviewed and approved the closure plan following an executive session during Monday’s monthly board meeting. The closure plan was expected to be submitted to the Department of Health on Tuesday.

The board had previously announced the closure of its Brasher Family Health Clinic following an Aug. 16 meeting.

According to board Chair Loretta Perez, fewer than five patients meet the criteria for admission to the four-bed Critical Care Unit each month.

“Its closure is estimated to save more than $1 million a year while having little impact on actual patient care,” she said in a statement. “Our action today mirrors actions taken by many rural hospitals across the country to close their CCU units because of low utilization. Closing the CCU is an essential step in achieving the goal of putting Massena Memorial on a path to financial stability.”

“Very simply, with so few patients actually meeting CCU admission criteria, the difficulty in finding critical care staff, and the high cost of maintaining a CCU, it’s virtually impossible to keep the CCU open,” Massena Memorial Hospital Chief Executive Officer David Bender said in a statement. “The resources wasted in keeping this extremely underutilized service open could be far better employed in meeting the essential needs of the community.”

As board members considered the closure of the Critical Care Unit, they took into account that the Emergency Room would remain open and fully operational, and that other critical patient care services such as cardiac monitoring would remain available for MMH patients. The hospital has signed an agreement with St. Lawrence Health System to provide physicians for the Emergency Department beginning Sept. 1.

“Strict protocols will also be put in place to ensure that the few patients who might otherwise require CCU-level care will have access to such care in the appropriate facility,” hospital officials said.

The Critical Care Unit beds will be converted for use as medical/surgical beds.

Earlier in the day, speaking to Massena’s Monday Luncheon Club, Mr. Bender said they have not yet determined what services would be available in the future at each hospital.

The hospital’s Board of Managers, Massena Town Council and St. Lawrence Health System had 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.

“What happens between Massena, Canton-Potsdam Hospital and Gouverneur, we have to figure that out. We’re going to find some things that are better done here in Massena than Canton-Potsdam and vice versa. It’s early in. We’re serious about making that work,” Mr. Bender said. “I think overall we’re absolutely going to have a much better level of care, not just for Massena, but also for the rest of the residents (in St. Lawrence County).”

As they continue to look at expenses, he said they were looking at making personnel cuts. Five people will be displaced by the closure of the Critical Care Unit, and hospital officials said there are sufficient vacancies currently available at Canton-Potsdam Hospital.

The Massena Town Council 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.

“Costs have to be reduced. There will be reductions in the number of jobs that will be available,” Mr. Bender said. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about this resolution that said we have to keep it at 345 and no less. Right now we’re well enough — 380 right now. We’ve added practices since the resolution. A lot has changed in the last three years. We don’t think there’s going to be a major reduction in positions, but we do need to make sure this organization is sustainable in the long term.”

He said they are talking about starting a new corporation next year, and that would also impact employees. Mr. Bender said they’ve already spoken to the Civil Service Employees Association and New York State Nurses Association.

“At this point, the state pension benefits of the employees goes away because we’re not under that pension system,” he said. “So we need to renegotiate with all of our employees what their new benefits package and new pension plan look like. We’ll bargain in good faith with them.”

Mr. Bender said they’ve already set aside part of the $8 million that St. Lawrence Health System has committed for the hospital’s operation “to at least address some kind of bridge payment for the employees who are most affected, if at all possible. They’ve said the strength of the organization is the employees. We don’t want to lose our good employees. We want to keep them, and we need to find a way to make that work.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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