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New Brooks site in Fredonia still in the works

On the move

OBSERVER Photo by Natasha Matteliano Brooks-TLC is still planning a move from the Dunkirk site to Fredonia.

New York’s government is drowning in red. According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, without federal assistance, the state is staring at a $16 billion deficit due in part to the coronavirus.

That, apparently has not hurt future plans for the Brooks-TLC Hospital System.

According to the state Health Department, the deficit and fiscal woes of Brooks-TLC are not factoring in to a promise made in March 2016. A new, more modern facility is still slated to be built to replace the current facility at 529 Central Ave. in Dunkirk.

“The New York state Department of Health’s commitment to the community has not changed,” said Jeffrey Hammond, spokesman for the Health Department in an email to the OBSERVER, “and we continue to work with the leadership of Brooks Memorial and other providers to ensure access to essential health services for the community is maintained.”

Before COVID-19, the prime location for the new structure was the former Cornell Cooperative Extension site, which is located opposite of the Fredonia Central Schools Main Street entrance in the village. Over the last four years, New York state set aside $70 million for the building and purchase of land.

Obviously, nothing has happened at the site– and shaky state finances could still doom the project. The state of the art facility is supposed to be more modern and decrease the number of beds from 65 to 29.

Mary E. LaRowe, Brooks-TLC president and chief executive officer, said due to the recent COVID-19 crisis, the work on the new build has been delayed.

“The hospital continues to work on its transformation plan to ensure a sustainable health system for the future,” she said. “While our primary focus has been responding to the COVID pandemic, the hospital has sought and obtained an extension on approvals required by the village of Fredonia Planning Board. We will continue to work with local community leaders, health care providers and New York state to ensure access to essential health services for the community is maintained.”

That new facility is seen as having a role in changing the fiscal structure of Brooks-TLC. Since 2012, the hospital has run deficits that total a combined $17 million. In 2019 alone, the deficit may have been nearly $20 million.

In February, the financial turmoil led to the unfortunate closing the Lakeshore Hospital facility in Irving. That action, which seems like a distant memory due to the COVID-19 crisis, came with plenty of hand wringing.

It also was not handled with the greatest of grace. Employees at the Irving site during its last month in operation got mixed messages about their future while furniture and equipment was being discarded right before their very eyes.

Included with the 2018 990 Internal Revenue Service financial documents for Brooks-TLC was an Independent Auditor’s Report that was put together by Lumsden McCormick. It spelled out the doomsday scenario without drastic changes for the institution.

“At December 31, 2018, current liabilities exceeded current assets by $4,633,000,” the May 9, 2019 document noted. “The System’s ability to continue as going concern is dependent upon its ability to generate revenues and financing sufficient to meet current obligations.”

Brooks, in recent years, has been able to survive based on the assistance from the state. In 2018, the two health-care facilities received $7.7 million in subsidies from Albany. Before then, it received $5.5 million in 2017 and $3.8 million in 2016 under a program that was called the state Department of Health Vital Access Provider Assurance Program. Most of these monies were directed to rural hospitals.

Those three years alone amount to $17 million in desperately needed funds.

As for this year, the hospital has received more than $18 million in loans and grants to help cope with the COVID-19 crisis. LaRowe said in an interview last week, those funds have brought some needed stability to payroll and vendors.

“I would say, with the funding, we’ve been able to manage this,” LaRowe said in regard to the hospital’s efforts of battling the coronavirus. “But we’re fearful of the future.”

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