New hospital is not just Dunkirk-Fredonia issue

Lost in the controversy over building a new Brooks Memorial Hospital is that it just isn’t Dunkirk’s hospital anymore or for that matter Fredonia’s. Since its merger with TLC Health Network in Irving it is now part of a regional healthcare system serving northern Chautauqua County. Therefore, even though I am a resident of Silver Creek I have a stake in this issue as do all residents of this area.

Five years ago, Lake Shore Hospital was on its death bed as solutions were sought to keep it alive. Finally, it was announced that effective Jan. 1, 2018 it would merge with Brooks Hospital with the new organization being called Brooks-TLC Hospital System, Inc. Because of the merger residents of the town of Hanover, Irving and Silver Creek continue to have access to emergency services at Lake Shore Hospital and are still able to have many necessary tests performed there quickly and conveniently.

However much of the optimism for the future of this new organization continues to be based on constructing a new state of the art hospital centrally located within northern Chautauqua County. Certainly, the locations that have been put forth would meet that criteria.

But what happens if the project to build a new Brooks Hospital drags on and on and Gov. Cuomo withdraws the $70 million allocated to build the new facility? As John D’Agostino noted in his recent Publisher’s Notebook he could easily do that. All we need to remind ourselves of that is the sight of that now silent power plant on Dunkirk harbor. Further we should remember the celebration that accompanied the governor’s announcement that the plant would be modified to generate electricity using natural gas and how that never happened. Unfortunately, the governor is not a man of his word. If we argue amongst ourselves over the future of Brooks Hospital’s we do so at our peril while imperiling the future of healthcare in the north county.

Hospitals all across the United States are facing change of one kind or another. Some of these changes occurred with the passage of the Affordable Care Act with its increased emphasis on linking payments to hospitals to improved health outcomes. This means the tasks of hospitals now go beyond treating and curing patients and sending them home.

Hospitals are now judged based on providing levels of treatment that will make it unlikely that patients need to be readmitted for the same problems. Further hospitals are also judged on patient satisfaction with their care. With all of this comes an increased emphasis in hospitals on preventive care and rehabilitation. Does the current Brooks Hospital lend itself to that approach?

Another change is that treatments and conditions that once entailed a patient being admitted for a long period of time now only require shorter admissions or can be treated in an outpatient setting. These changes impact hospital cash flow.

These changes affect all hospitals but for hospitals such as Brooks and Lake Shore there is the problem of declining populations that leads to fewer patients using the facility leading to a further decline in cash flow.

We need a new Brooks, but if we continue to engage in arguments over retaining and rehabbing an “historical” but outdated facility designed for another era of health care, continue to circulate parochial petitions that are blind to the now regional nature of the hospital or continue to argue over perceived traffic problems or sewer capacity issues at the proposed sight the governor may very likely renege on his promise and then Brooks and Lake Shore will likely cease to exist in the way we know them.

Another health-care provider might step into the void here but then instead of being at the center of a regional health-care system we could end up in the outer reaches of health-care systems based in Buffalo or Erie. Under those circumstances how far would we need to go for emergency services?

I feel that it’s time we replace our fear of what the future might bring with an understanding that the future brings new opportunities. Northern Chautauqua County has been given a golden opportunity to build a state-of-the-art hospital that will bring the delivery of healthcare in our region into the 21st century and beyond. If we lose this chance because of short-sightedness we stand to lose something even more important which is first class health care and a better quality of life.

Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a Silver Creek resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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