‘A question of when’: Morris expects new Brooks-TLC facility to be built

Brooks-TLC President and CEO Ken Morris, third from right, is shown with Dunkirk-Fredonia Rotary members, from left, Michele Starwalt-Woods, Sheila Starkey Hahn, Linda Blodgett, Fredonia Trustees Nicole Siracuse and Jon Espersen and Rotarians Melanie Witkowski and Jefferson Westwood. Michael Bobseine, Dunkirk city attorney, was at the meeting as well representing Mayor Wilfred Rosas.

One of the major questions looming in northern Chautauqua County is the future state of the Brooks-TLC Hospital System. Earlier this week, Brooks-TLC President and CEO Ken Morris was pressed for an answer on that at a meeting of the Dunkirk-Fredonia Rotary Club.

Sheila Starkey Hahn, Dunkirk-Fredonia Rotary Public Image Chair, asked, “Are we getting this new hospital in Fredonia?”

Morris responded, “I don’t see how we can’t. It’s really a question of when, and making sure that we have support. I think the holdup … is making sure that everybody is aligned and supportive with this project. For every question that comes out publicly, politically, people don’t want to touch it.”

On Thursday afternoon, Morris spoke at length to a group of more than 20 members of the community and Dunkirk-Fredonia Rotarians at the Horizon Room of the Williams Center at SUNY Fredonia.

He described the state of the health-care system overall in recent years, as well as specifics to the state of Brooks-TLC and its plans for the future, along with questions from the audience, ranging from navigating the system to the demand for services, like a maternity ward.

Ken Morris, Brooks-TLC President and CEO, spoke to Dunkirk-Fredonia Rotarians on Thursday afternoon about the state of Brooks-TLC and the future of healthcare in northern Chautauqua County.

Another pressing question in the community related to the location of a new hospital in Fredonia — rather than Dunkirk — is the longstanding safety issues the village of Fredonia has with its water supply. Last month, for the second time since 2020, water throughout the village was deemed unsafe and a boil-water order was issued. Morris responded to the fears many have of the potential new site being in Fredonia.

“Anytime you build a large campus, you design your water system to loop around the campus, so it gives you multiple feeds,” Morris told The OBSERVER. “In ours, we have two different feeds. One feed will be the primary source of water from Fredonia, the secondary will be a backup redundancy with the ability to connect to Dunkirk. We know it is an issue … but don’t think that we’re solely supported by the village, because we’re not. We have the ability for redundant water sources.”

Citing the ease of switching from one water system to another in the plans Brooks-TLC has designed, Morris is not concerned about the potential of relying on Fredonia’s water supply.

“It’s very simple. If we have an issue, we shut the valve off, we go over to the other side of the water loop, and we open it up. Obviously, we’ve got to do some testing, but we do that already with water line breaks,” Morris said. “It’s not something that our team wouldn’t be able to manage.”

Morris highlighted increased accessibility as one of the key reasons for a potential move, both in terms of members of the community driving to the new facility which would be closer to Interstate 90, Routes 20 and 60.

“Certainly when it comes to the other communities, that extra drive of 10 minutes could be the difference between them going to Brooks … or them going in a different direction altogether,” Morris said. “If we have the ability to bring them a bit closer, that’s the advantage — to open it up and ensure that we have as much of the population as we possibly can.”

Morris also stressed the importance of a helipad on the campus, rather than the need to transport a patient again once they land in an emergency situation.

“Right now at the current site, it’s a big challenge to transport through a helipad and some sort of care-flight service. We actually have to wait for EMS to pick up a patient, and travel to another location, so that person can be care-flighted out of the area,” Morris said. “That’s an important piece for us in terms of our new plan. In terms of servicing the area and covering those emergency needs, it’s critical for us.”

Morris also highlighted the financial struggle of hospitals all throughout the state, which was only amplified by wage increases because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Morris estimated that near 40 of the 52 hospitals in the state reported losses over a three-year period, not including 2022, which he anticipated would impact the numbers even more dramatically. Morris stated that grant funding from the state is what keeps Brooks-TLC open, which is the case with most hospitals in the area, according to Morris.

“We’re talking about negative margins which are completely unsustainable, so the only way to get bailed out here is through the state,” Morris said.

Morris believes a new facility will be more financially sustainable than the current facility is. According to Morris, the necessary renovation costs for the current facility outweigh the costs associated with a new site.

“There is a lot of history when it comes to Dunkirk, but they support us with 30 percent of our patient volume. If we were to live on Dunkirk alone, we wouldn’t have the ability to make it to the future. We have to think of ourselves regionally. The current location certainly has its challenges — it’s very costly in health care,” Morris said.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today