IRVING - The news of Lake Shore Hospital's closing came as a shock to many in the Hanover and Silver Creek community and has left many people with questions.
In a letter to the community released Wednesday, the Lake Erie Regional Health System of New York, the company that runs Lake Shore and Brooks hospitals, announced that the hospital would close at the end of January.
In addition to affecting approximately 460 jobs at the facility, it would also affect 67 residents at the nursing home as well as community members that utilize the facility.
LERHSNY Vice President of Marketing and Community Relations Scott Butler said the hospital is working with the state to place all of the nursing home residents before Jan. 31.
The letter attributed the $7 million shortfall for 2013 and the decision to close the facility to "declining patient volumes, declining reimbursement rates, increased government mandates and unrealized benefits of consolidation efforts related to the Berger Commission."
It continued to say, despite measures like hiring a new Chief Financial Officer, aligning staffing to volumes, consolidating departments and services and implementing stringent cost-control measures, the financial situation at the hospital continued "to decline to an unsustainable level."
One employee who asked not to be identified blamed the board of directors and mismanagement for the closing.
"As a community member I want people to know that's why it's closing. They want Brooks open and they sabotaged Lake Shore. We want the community to know the staff cares about them," she said.
Other employees declined to comment and expressed fear of getting "fired quicker" if it was discovered they broke the company policy and spoke with the media.
Butler said he has heard rumors that the closing is due to mismanagement or mandates from the Affordable Care Act; however, he said neither is true.
He also said the $2.6 million renovation of the emergency department did not have anything to do with the hospital's shortfall.
"The renovations were part of a HEAL NY grant from the state. At that time we expected we would be able to right the ship and we hoped the renovation would help with that. Also, because it was a grant, the money had to be used for that specific purpose. We could not use the money for anything else," Butler explained.
He added that Lake Shore's closing will not affect the expansion of the Gowanda Urgent Care facility. However, he said there are no plans for an urgent care facility in the Irving area once the hospital closes.
"This was a difficult decision that needed to be made, and we feel deeply for every community member and employee that this move will negatively impact. However, we strongly believe this was the only decision that would allow us to continue providing health services in other parts of our community through Brooks Memorial Hospital and our urgent and primary care facilities, and we pledge to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone involved," LERHSNY Board of Directors Chairman Christopher Lanski said in the letter.
Silver Creek Mayor Nick Piccolo called the news "a big hit" to the community and said it could affect the potential for development in the area.
"It is a big, big hit to the community especially with businesses considering moving to the area. If there is no hospital close by that could impact their decision. ... If construction does take off in this area and someone gets hurt on the job, where will they be treated? And how fast will they be treated?" Piccolo asked.
Silver Creek Fire Chief Jeff Griewisch said he was also concerned about the amount of time it will take for patients to receive care once Lake Shore closes.
"It could make a big difference. Usually patients get treatment in a few minutes. If Lake Shore closes it will take a lot longer," he said.
He also said it will impact the emergency squad's time on calls as well as increase fuel and vehicle wear and tear costs. Griewisch assured residents though that even if money needs to be redistributed, the emergency squad will still respond to calls as it has since 1955.
Hanover Supervisor Todd Johnson said he received many calls about the impact of the hospital closing.
"It will have a drastic impact on the community and surrounding area. There is the loss of the 460 jobs but Lake Shore Hospital is a lot more than that. A lot of people depend on that hospital, in Hanover but also in areas like Gowanda and the Cherry Creek area," he said.
Johnson said he has been in contact with Assemblyman Andy Goodell who hopes to organize a meeting with the state Health Department and the LERHSNY Board of Directors to see what can be done to stop the closure or delay it.
County Legislator George Borrello said he has also been in contact with Goodell and because of the critical nature of the facility for the area, he said he will do whatever he can to help the situation.
"On top of the 460 jobs, the hospital is a critical component of health care in Northern Chautauqua County. Since the flood in Gowanda, all those people are taken to Lake Shore. Once that is closed the closest hospital for them will be in Springville. Hanover and the Seneca Nation also depend on the hospital. Brooks is very far if you're having a heart attack. That's why I hope we can at least keep the emergency component open. I understand this was a business decision ... but this can be measured in lives not just money and that is why I am committed to do whatever I can," he said.
Borrello said he has heard a sale may be the best option to keep the facility open.
"Hopefully this can be turned around with a buyer or at least in part. Right now the situation is so new, we need more information before we can know what options there are for the future," he said.
Butler confirmed LERHSNY is looking for a buyer for the facility but didn't want to give "false hope" because it will be a difficult prospect.