Massena voters may have say in hospital sale

The Massena Town Council will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. Monday to discuss and adopt a resolution to transfer Massena Memorial Hospital’s real estate assets to St. Lawrence Health System.

MASSENA — The Massena Town Council wants voters to have a say in the sale of Massena Memorial Hospital to St. Lawrence Health System.

They’ll hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. Monday to discuss and adopt a resolution to transfer the hospital’s real estate assets to St. Lawrence Health System, Inc., a private not-for-profit entity.

Town Supervisor Steven D. O’Shaughnessy said that, by adopting the resolution, it’s subject to mandatory referendum, which would allow town of Massena taxpayers to have their say in the transfer. The vote would be held on Election Day, Nov. 5.

The hospital’s Board of Managers and the Massena Town Council had 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 David 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 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.

Mr. O’Shaughnessy said that, because much of the behind-the-scenes work involved contract negotiations, much of that information could not be shared with the public.

“But now, this is the perfect opportunity for the taxpayers of the town of Massena to learn about it, understand it, see if this is what they want and vote on Election Day,” he said.

“We know this has generated a lot of public interest. There’s been a lot of concern. This will give the voters of the town of Massena an opportunity to make a choice,” town attorney Eric Gustafson said.

He said there were requirements about the time frame involved for a referendum, and they opted to have it on Election Day.

Mr. Bender, the hospital CEO, discussed the referendum in brief during a presentation to Massena’s Monday’s Luncheon Club. He said a no vote would have serious consequences.

“There is a lot of talk about the referendum. If the referendum comes and the agreement is voted down, there won’t be time for a revised agreement. St. Lawrence will be out, the grant will disappear and we’re back to where we started,” he said. “The state is only willing to commit this $20 million if St. Lawrence is part of the deal.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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