Massena Memorial Hospital has received approval from the state Department of Health to close its four-bed Critical Care Unit. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — Massena Memorial Hospital officials announced Monday that they’ve received approval from the state Department of Health to close their four-bed Critical Care Unit.

They had officially made the request on Aug. 20, citing the fact that fewer than five patients met the criteria for admission to the Critical Care Unit each month. The hospital’s Board of Managers voted to approve the closure plan on Aug. 19, and the request was approved by the Department of Health on Friday.

Chief Executive Officer David J. Bender said the closure of the Critical Care Unit will save the hospital about $1 million annually. He said it was difficult to recruit and retain critical care staff “and the cost was prohibitive.”

“Thanks to the state Department of Health, Massena Memorial today takes a step forward in trying to improve its financial picture and ensure the continuation of quality, accessible health care for the people of Massena and the surrounding communities,” he said in a statement.

The Critical Care Unit beds will be converted for use as medical/surgical beds, and its closure means the elimination of 11 full-time and two part-time positions. Positions are available within for the hospital for nine of the impacted employees. Positions are available at other St. Lawrence Health System facilities for the remaining three full-time and one-part time employees.

“The board (of managers) thoroughly reviewed this proposal — its impact on the health of our community and the financial health of our hospital — before we voted to approve the closure of the CCU last month. It was the right decision then and we’re glad that DOH, after their review, agreed with us and approved us moving forward with the closure,” board Chair Loretta Perez said in a statement.

She said Massena Memorial’s plan to close the Critical Care Unit “mirrors actions take 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.”

Hospital officials said their Emergency Room will remain open and fully operational, under the direction of St. Lawrence Health System, which began providing physicians for the department as of Sept. 1. Other critical patient care services such as cardiac monitoring will remain available to Massena Memorial’s patients, and strict protocols have been put in place to ensure that the few patients who might otherwise require CCU-level care will have access to the care in the appropriate facility.

Hospital officials are still waiting for approval to reduce the number of certified beds from 50 to 25 as part of their request to convert to a Critical Access Hospital. Becoming a Critical Access Hospital will mean a net revenue gain of $2.6 million per year,” according to hospital officials.

“The state has approved to move us from 50 to 25 beds, which is consistent with our request for conversion to a Critical Access Hospital,” hospital spokesperson Tina Corcoran said.

The request, while approved by the state, is now pending at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Board of Manages had unanimously agreed on April 8 to move forward with filing a Certificate of Need to become a Critical Access Hospital.

Critical access is a designation given to eligible rural hospitals by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It was created in response to a string of rural hospital closures during the 1980s and early 1990s. The designation is designed to reduce the financial vulnerability of rural hospitals and improve access to health care by keeping essential services in rural communities.

Eligible hospitals must have 25 or fewer acute care inpatient beds; be more than 35 miles from another hospital, although exceptions may apply; maintain an annual average length of stay of 96 hours or less for acute care patients; and provide 24/7 emergency care services.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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