New Brooks is ‘opportunity’ for area

OBSERVER Photo A parking lot at Brooks Memorial Hospital was created after a former church was demolished in 2012 at Fifth Street and Central Avenue.

There is no turning back, Dunkirk. Brooks Memorial Hospital is poised to move forward with its selection for a new site within the next 22 days.

What should be a reason for at least some celebration, has become a conundrum of worry for many who have lived in northern Chautauqua County all their lives. They see our humble hospital at Sixth Street and Central Avenue as remaining serviceable for today and the future. They also see it as a comforting beacon, one that many watched grow and expand during their lifetimes.

The greatest worry, however, is what will become of site when Brooks finally moves on.

It was only five years ago when it seemed the hospital was more than intent on staying at its current location. It had purchased the former Church of Christ and later Iglesia Getsemani church building at 501 Central Ave. for $150,000 to expand its parking lot. After some opposition for preservation, the historic structure was demolished in October 2012.

Unfortunately, the city hospital at the time had no real direction. Within the next six months, major changes in its administration took place with the March 2013 dismissal of Jonathan Lawrence, chief executive officer, from Brooks and TLC Health Network in Irving.

What then followed — for three long years — was plenty of pain and uncertainty. Brooks was being overseen through an consulting agreement by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and there was seemingly little local control over the day-to-day decisions being made inside the building.

When New York state announced in March 2016 it was setting aside $57 million for TLC and Brooks to realign and begin working with Kaleida Health, it also called for a new facility to replace the outdated Dunkirk location. It is tough to admit, especially for those of us with connections to babies being born and exemplary care being received, that our aging Brooks building with 65 beds is far behind the times.

What awaits — with an additional $14 million in aid announced last month from New York — is a state-of-the-art structure that, once built, will fit the model of other health-care organizations. The price tag: around $70 million.

Just where the new Brooks will be located has been narrowed to an extent. In a meeting with Brooks, TLC and Kaleida leaders last week, it seems the closer to Route 60 and the state Thruway, the better. What’s unknown is if the location would be in the town of Dunkirk, where land is available on Route 60, or closer to Fredonia, which was touting the former Cornell Cooperative Extension station off of Main Street.

“It needs to be nearby to shopping, restaurants and businesses … where all our patients work and shop,” said Chris Lanski, Brooks Hospital board chair. “We have two campuses, so the service providers are going to need to move back and forth … so it needs to be convenient for them as well.”

Most importantly is how the new Brooks will appeal to a younger, more computer savvy medical staff being recruited to come to Dunkirk-Fredonia. “A new hospital build allows us to really address the new technology that’s out there,” said Mary E. LaRowe, chief executive officer at Brooks. “To put some of this new technology into an old building is almost impossible and cost prohibitive.”

In the most recent Internal Revenue Service 990 filings available for public view, there’s no doubt Brooks needs to find cost savings wherever it can. From 2012 to 2015 the organization ran a deficit of $11.45 million. A portion of that loss can be tied to a structure more suited for health care in the 1980s and ’90s than for the 21st century. “This will streamline our cost for operating a building,” LaRowe said. “Maintenance and repair is tremendous on those old physical plants.”

For Dunkirk city officials, the move is unsettling. At a time when leaders actually have a vision of making the most of its waterfront, it now faces the major dilemma of an empty building and block.

However, Kaleida’s Michael Hughes, senior vice president of public affairs and marketing, may have said it best. With $70 million in aid from Albany, now is the time for this huge transition. “This is not happening all across the state,” he said. “This is a very unique time for Dunkirk and Chautauqua County. The opportunity cannot be missed.”

John D’Agostino is the publisher of the OBSERVER. Send comments to or call 366-3000, ext. 401.