MASSENA — Massena Memorial Hospital Chief Executive Officer David J. Bender and Town Supervisor Steven D. O’Shaughnessy encouraged Massena’s senior citizens to vote yes on a hospital referendum that will be on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Mr. Bender and Mr. O’Shaughnessy spoke at Wednesday’s monthly meeting of the Massena Senior Citizens Board of Directors, and said the hospital is unsustainable without assistance from St. Lawrence Health System and the state.
“The hospital has been losing money for years now. We needed to change a while back. We have reached the unsustainable point,” Mr. Bender said, noting they’re seeing losses of $1 million a month in 2019.
He said they’ve been tightening their belts to reduce expenses, but one of the reasons for the decreased revenue is a decline in patient volume.
“We need to stop the ongoing decline of volume and bring that volume back,” Mr. Bender said.
The hospital’s Board of Managers and the Massena Town Council agreed in May “to the concept of entering into a management and operations agreement with St. Lawrence Health System,” with St. Lawrence Health System “providing management, operational strategy and guidance to Massena Memorial Hospital, subject to active oversight and supervision by the New York State Department of Health.”
The management agreement between Massena Memorial Hospital and St. Lawrence Health System was approved by the state Department of Health in June, and allowed St. Lawrence Health System to take over day-to-day management of Massena Memorial Hospital under the leadership of Mr. Bender, who was appointed as chief executive officer following the state’s approval of the agreement.
On July 30, the hospital’s Board of Managers and Massena Town Council met separately to approve three resolutions.
Among them was to accept a $20 million grant from the state Department of Health and authorize an asset transfer agreement between Massena Memorial Hospital and St. Lawrence Health.
The grant funding was contingent on the St. Lawrence Health System creating an entirely new nonprofit entity that would acquire Massena’s assets and operate the hospital as part of St. Lawrence Health System.
That led the hospital’s Board of Managers, Massena Town Council and St. Lawrence Health System to sign an agreement to convert Massena Memorial from a public to a private, nonprofit hospital that would be part of St. Lawrence Health System, along with Canton-Potsdam and Gouverneur hospitals.
St. Lawrence Health System has also agreed to provide $8 million toward the hospital’s operation.
The Massena Town Council unanimously passed a resolution on Aug. 26 to sell surplus Massena Memorial Hospital property to St. Lawrence Health System and set up a mandatory referendum that will be included as part of the Election Day vote on Nov. 5.
“We do need a partner. This asset purchase agreement supports our efforts going forward,” Mr. Bender said.
He said the $20 million grant, plus the $8 million from St. Lawrence Health System, will help “get us through the transition” and give them an opportunity to address their ongoing losses and liabilities.
“It will give us a much stronger starting point,” he said.
The partnership will benefit north country patients, according to Mr. Bender.
“The biggest problem with healthcare is we need better access to surgeons. In so many cases, we need to go three hours to Burlington or Syracuse,” he said.
But, as part of St. Lawrence Health System, they could financially be able to provide more services.
“I want to reaffirm what Mr. Bender said. As he said, that is the only way we can sustain the hospital here,” Mr. O’Shaughnessy said.