Union, politicians rally to fight TLC Lakeshore closure
‘No good answers’
IRVING — On Dec. 3, over 160 healthcare workers represented by 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East found out that TLC Lakeshore Hospital would close at the end of the month. Union members rallied together with over 100 community members and Emergency Medical Services personnel on Tuesday morning to fight the closure and make their concerns known.
The group was joined by State Senator George Borrello, Assemblyman Andy Goodell, Assemblyman Joe Giglio, acting Chautauqua County Executive Stephen Abdella, District 6 Legislator Tom Harmon, Chautauqua County Mental Hygiene Director Pat Brinkman and Christine Schuyler, commissioner of Chautauqua County Health and Human Services.
Peter DeJesus of 1199SEIU led the rally and explained that he and other union members have been meeting with management to ask why the closure was necessary, especially during a one-month time period. “We were met with nothing but more questions,” he said. “It seems that the employer knew and has a plan but is unwilling to share it with us. So, faced with the inevitable closure, we decided that we would not be willing to take this sitting down. If we are going to go down, we’re going to go down with a fight.”
DeJesus explained that last week, he met with Borrello and began to put a plan into action. “We are calling on TLC to make their plans known, to allow us the opportunity and the timeframe to explore alternatives, to ensure that the care that we provide in this facility and in this region stays here and that it’s given by the people you see here today,” he said.
DeJesus invited Kathy Manning, a 46-year registered nurse in the chemical dependency unit, to the podium. She pointed out that she serves residents of Erie, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties and that TLC Lakeshore is the most centrally located hospital in the area. “Dunkirk just recently opened their opioid court,” she said. “They have no place to send them. Most places for in-patient chemical dependency rehab are full because of the opioid epidemic. Where are people supposed to go?”
She added that in the event of the hospital’s closure, there would be no local care for mental health patients. “We’ve saved a lot of lives, including in our emergency room,” she said. “We have volunteer services that bring people here when they call 911. How are those people that take time off of their jobs going to be able to take an hour or a couple to take patients to other facilities?”
Borrello, too, noted the impact of the hospital’s loss on the community– a loss that would hit very close to him and his family. “This is my community hospital,” he said. “I live right down the street in Sunset Bay. In fact, the day that they announced this [closure], my stepmother fell down the basement stairs and was brought to this hospital.”
The senator reported that since Dec. 3, he has already visited Albany twice but was met with “dead air” in response to his many questions. Borrello sought answers from members of the state department of health as to where to send mental health and substance abuse patients, and how to handle the increased demands that would be placed on EMS personnel. “No good answers here,” Borrello said. “This is not a well-thought out plan, ladies and gentlemen. This is not a plan that is going to take into consideration that there are people’s lives at stake.”
Manning told Borrello that she and other employees were no longer permitted to accept patients in the chemical dependency unit since the announced closure. He confirmed that he brought this very issue to the head of the Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) in Albany. “I’m also told that as of right now, the Office of Mental Health said that they cannot stop admitting people for mental health, so where is the coordination? We’re still accepting patients.”
During Goodell’s turn at the podium, he reminded the crowd that only a few years ago, he was at a similar rally when a possible closure of Lakeshore Hospital was announced. He noted that together, he, Giglio, and former State Senator Cathy Young fought to keep the hospital open. “If anyone thinks for one moment that Senator Borrello isn’t going to fight just as hard, they are sadly mistaken,” he stated.
Goodell commented on the “highly skilled employees” that are facing job losses on Jan. 1. “How ironic, when we talk about a nursing shortage across the state, that we’re here today talking about nurses being laid off,” he pointed out. “It’s the wrong direction for the community.”
Abdella expressed concern over new challenges to providing county residents with timely care if TLC Lakeshore closes. “From a county government perspective, the emergency services are a crucial concern…It’s the response time to not only go longer distances, but you’re looking at facilities that will potentially be more crowded in their waiting rooms and the wait time will be even longer there,” he said. “Less than a month’s notice is just not acceptable or responsible to look at these concerns from a workforce perspective.”
Borrello concluded the press conference with a question-and-answer session, during which he said that he is traveling to New York City on Thursday to meet with more representatives from Albany “to make sure this message is heard loud and clear.” The senator hopes to prevent or at least delay the closure of the hospital, as it is contingent on approval from OASAS and the Office of Mental Health. “My question is, what is a responsible way of handling this? I’m not getting the right answers,” he said. “This is not a responsible plan…I’ll continue to fight.”