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COUNCIL VOTES TO KEEP LAKESHORE UNITS OPEN

In a unanimous vote, the Behavioral Health Services Advisory Council has approved keeping the Lakeshore Hospital behavioral health unit and emergency room open for the time being.

In making its decision, the board stated the Brooks-TLC Hospital System did not work up an acceptable plan for the future of the community and those they served.

“There was inadequate planning … and evaluation,” the chair of the committee said of the Brooks-TLC actions during the council meeting.

The reprieve could give the operation until at least April 1 to come up with a transition plan. In early December, Brooks-TLC announced the Irving campus closure. That was approved by the state Department of Health, but not by the state Office of Mental Health.

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, hailed the decision, noting this allows for a transition plan for the facility. Borrello said last week there was a potential buyer in the wings and reiterated that during the hearing today.

During the session where Lakeshore Hospital was on the agenda, discussion centered around finances, the community, service to patients and the volunteers who transport patients in the rural part of the region.

In one instance, an official from Brooks-TLC blamed the closing on “the world around us is against small rural healthcare.” State council members did not accept that premise.

For its part, Mary LaRowe, president and chief executive officer for Brooks-TLC, noted there were two other behavioral treatment units in the region. Borrello and Service Employee International Union 1199 denied that, saying service was 40 minutes to more than an hour on a weather-friendly day to travel.

In terms of losses, Brooks-TLC claimed the Lakeshore campus in 2019 had $15 million in revenues that translated into $8 million in losses.

Advisory council members did not question the money, but did question the Brooks-TLC road map and values.

“You’re losing a ton of money. … The brunt of the impact is on mental health treatment,” said the chair of the committee. “The impact is disproportionately on mental health.”

Other speakers besides Borrello included Louis Pelletter from the town of Hanover; Tammy Yeager, who spoke on behalf of the emergency room; and Aubrey Cunningham, who spoke on behalf on the union.

All four speakers talked about how the hospital serves a three-county radius in a rural setting. They also blamed the hospital for a lack of communication and involvement. “In recent weeks we have worked through manufactured staffing crisis. … Despite misinformation we have managed to maintain census (in the behavioral health unit),” Cunningham told the council.

Yeager made an impassioned plea for the emergency department, noting the inconvenient distance those needing assistance might need to travel. “We are putting countless lives at stake. … Many will forego treatment rather than travel an hour away to be seen,” Yeager said.

Following the 30 minutes of discussion, the panel moved forward with its decision to keep the units open and no other timetable.

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