LOCKPORT — Local elected officials have responded to the announced closing of Eastern Niagara Hospital's maternity ward and three other facilities in Newfane, including the dialysis lab.
Assemblyman Michael Norris, R-Lockport, said the maternity ward in Lockport holds a special place for the community, adding that his mother worked there for decades.
"While I recognize that the Hospital Board and administration have a fiduciary responsibility to the long-term stability and solvency of the hospital, I am extremely disappointed that the maternity ward is closing," Norris said, "Rural hospital systems, like ENH, across the country are struggling to operate in an evolving market that is drifting from small-volume care.
"I urge the State Department of Health to take this under consideration when examining health services on a comprehensive statewide basis, especially concerning policy decisions and the impact on rural hospitals in Upstate and Western New York. "
He concluded by saying his office will remain in regular communication with the ENH administration and continue to advocate to all stakeholders that ENH must take the steps to remain viable in the long term.
State Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said the hospital faces "daunting challenges that continue to afflict our rural health care networks."
"I’ve prioritized these networks in previous state budgets and have specifically advocated on ENH’s behalf for specific grants," Ortt said. "I’ve supported ENH in the past and I will continue to do so moving forward because individuals in these areas deserve the highest quality care."
A spokesman for his office pointed out that Ortt secured a $250,000 grant last year that still hasn't been released by the state.
Mayor Michelle Roman said she first heard of the maternity ward closing herself at the Common Council meeting last week.
Roman said the news is "very disappointing," and that, "it impacts a lot of people's jobs and our community."
Last week, Anne McCaffrey, hospital president and CEO, said the ENH board of directors recently approved, by a unanimous vote, the "2020 Transformational Program," which calls for closing the maternity department and, in Newfane, the dialysis center, Newfane Express Care and its radiology facility, while investing in UBMD Emergency Medicine and Great Lakes Medical Imagining, achieving accreditation for the hospital, continuing the hospital's family medicine clinic at 475 Transit St., and pursuing state grants for debt relief and IT implementation.
Forty-four jobs, the majority full-time equivalent, are associated with the programs and departments being cut. McCaffrey said affected employees have been encouraged to apply for open positions elsewhere in the hospital.
The hospital board looked at upcoming budgets, analyzed services that aren't bringing in enough revenue and concluded that the maternity unit and three programs in Newfane were hurting the hospital's bottom line, according to McCaffrey.
ENH has seen "a significant decline" in births over the past 20 years, McCaffrey said. In 1998, 500 babies were delivered at ENH and in 2018, the hospital hosted about 325 deliveries. In the past two decades, the local population of women of childbearing age decreased by 24 percent and, at the same time, a growing number of women in the hospital's service area have chosen hospitals other than ENH for childbirth. Currently, 65 percent of women in ENH's primary service area give birth at other hospitals.
The hospital's maternity unit will be closed in June or July, pending approval of the state health department, she said. Patients will be referred to either Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital in Amherst or Oishei Children's Hospital in Buffalo.