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‘Unnecessary’ article spooks public

Recently, the front page of the OBSERVER’s Publisher’s notebook had a headline “Fragile Brooks may be on last legs” (Jan. 3). Such dramatics and histrionics are unnecessary and only serve to alarm the public while not including key facts. Moreover, blame is being placed in places that it should not be.

Brooks-TLC is like many small rural hospitals across the country; struggling with the changes in care delivery, adapting to the rapidly changing environment, the ever increasing move to outpatient services, cuts in reimbursement, increasing competition from unlikely competitors, physician and provider shortages, declining and aging population. All of these factors have a significant role in the financial health of hospitals in our region, across New York state and even nationwide.

In less than a decade, 90 rural hospitals have closed across the U.S. Predictions are that as many as 670 more may be at risk of closing over the next decade. It is the intent of the Brooks-TLC board of directors to prevent that from happening in Chautauqua County.

Closure of the TLC campus was a painful decision which had to be made to ensure the future of hospital services in northern Chautauqua County. It is no secret that both Brooks and TLC received significant funding from the state Department of Health to cover operating losses while implementing a transformation plan that positions the hospital system for the changing health care landscape.

Since the merger of Brooks and TLC in February 2018, Health Department funding has continued for the merged entity, reinforcing the department’s position that Brooks-TLC is a critical provider in the region. However; with next year’s New York state budget process in full swing and a projected deficit of $6 billion, it is anticipated that future funding will be limited and the hospital must implement a plan quickly to address funding gaps.

Despite the commitment to the special services we have provided on the TLC campus and the good work of our employees and providers, there were no other options that could provide the funding required to save the TLC campus. With a new facility plan for Brooks, recognition of the broad primary and secondary service area the hospital supports, and the population density of northern Chautauqua County, it became clear that the TLC campus could not be sustained. Every consideration was made to try to accommodate behavioral health and chemical dependency services into the new hospital, but that would require additional capital dollars that are not available.

There has been no change in the commitment of the hospital or the Health Department related to the replacement facility for Brooks. It is well known that the extensive time required related to the site selection, site change, and obtaining the requisite approvals have led to undesired delays in the start of the project. It is frustrating for everyone including the Brooks-TLC Board and administration, but the hospital remains committed to seeing the project through to completion.

The article also stated that Brooks-TLC has not been transparent with the public in their dealings or actions. We have held numerous meetings with community leaders, in which the OBSERVER staff or leadership attended. Many of the proprietary discussions with hospital partners and the Health Department have been confidential and could not be shared publicly. When they could be shared they were.

The OBSERVER also attacks Kaleida Health, accusing the system of contributing to the decline of Brooks-TLC. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Despite the lack of any legal ownership or control, Kaleida Health has supported hospital providing in-kind services (no cost) that Brooks-TLC would otherwise need to provide at a significant cost or purchase from another provider. Additionally, the organization has been supportive of keeping care local when appropriate and has facilitated the recruitment of specialists to the area. Kaleida Health, like other tertiary centers, is hoping to build its tertiary referral business, support patients and their providers who cannot be served in their local markets and keep patient care local.

In closing, the OBSERVER article only serves to alarm the public, discounts the work to save health care for the region, and provides a platform for naysayers. The board of Brooks-TLC remains committed to the region and will work tirelessly to ensure future access to health services.

Christopher Lanski is chair of the Brooks-TLC Hospital System Inc. board of directors.

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