By Joe Olenick
NEWFANE — Town Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg isn't just calling for the rescue of the Newfane hospital, he's calling for a change in Eastern Niagara Hospital management.
In front of a crowd of more than 200 people Monday night at town hall, Horanburg read a letter he wrote to Niagara County residents explaining the situation with the Eastern Niagara Hospital's Newfane site. Formerly known as Inter-Community Memorial Hospital, the facility is feared by many to be teetering toward closure.
Eastern Niagara CEO Clare Haar has made some "horrible, irresponsible financial decisions," Horanburg charged.
"There needs to be a change in management and we need it now," he said. "Make the board of directors wake up and do the right thing."
Monday's meeting was designed to get local leaders, fire companies and emergency personnel together to talk about how best to proceed. Horanburg said residents will have a chance to speak at a public meeting to be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Miller Hose Volunteer Fire Co. hall, 6161 McKee St.
That didn't stop people from attending the Monday meeting, however. Residents packed a meeting room, some with signs proclaiming support for the hospital. Flyers appeared on some vehicles parked near town hall on Main Street, while some local businesses put out signs in support of saving the hospital.
Eastern Niagara Hospital officials are saying they have not made a decision to close the Newfane site. The hospital is looking at alternative ways to cut costs, ENH community relations director Carolyn Moore said in a written statement.
"In order to remain viable, it is imperative that the hospital proactively examine opportunities to reshape the organization and utilize its resources in the most efficient manner possible — in accordance with the utilization of services by patients," Moore said. "The hospital is studying a variety of options to reduce expenses, but has made no decisions."
There have been 15 layoffs at both ENH sites, Lockport and Newfane, since Jan. 1, hospital officials said. On Saturday, Horanburg said the layoff total was closer to 21.
Moore said Eastern Niagara Hospital has made significant improvements at the Newfane site. Those improvements include enhancing radiology equipment and technology, investing $3 million in 2010 to renovate the medical and surgical unit and adding the dialysis unit in 2011, "after this service was identified as a medical need in the community," Moore said.
The recent layoffs were in response to decreased inpatient volume and a shift toward outpatient services, according to Moore's statement.
“Change is a constant for health care institutions today. Hospitals can no longer operate in the same manner they did 20 years ago or even 10 years ago," Moore said. "As the needs of the community and the utilization of services change, the hospital must also reconfigure. It is essential in order to ensure ENH’s long term sustainability in the region.”
Horanburg said ENH should have never bought the Newfane Health Facility, which he claimed was losing $700,000 a year.
Horanburg said the Newfane hospital has twice survived the state health department's attempts at closure, showing Monday's crowd a picture of a 1987 meeting of residents in opposition of Albany's attempt. He said he hoped Saturday's meeting tops the 5,000 who were there in 1987.
"We are here for a purpose, that hospital we built has to stay here," Horanburg said.
Eastern Niagara Hospital remains committed to providing access to local care, Moore said.
"It is taking a methodical approach to evaluate all areas so that it can best meet the changing needs of the community and position the hospital for continued success. Specifics have yet to be determined," Moore said. "In order to fulfill its mission of providing care to the residents of eastern Niagara County, ENH must continue to achieve fiscal stability — which can sometimes be a painful process.”