NEWFANE, N.Y. (WIVB) – For months, people in Newfane have been fighting planned cutbacks at Eastern Niagara Hospital. And for months, they say, the hospital’s board of directors and executives have refused to communicate with them.
When Eastern Niagara Health System CEO Clare Haar and Chairman George Muscato came to a community meeting with residents Saturday evening at Newfane Town Hall, the long-simmering frustration boiled over.
About an hour into the meeting, after several presenters and members of the community had spoken, Muscato got up to address the crowd. A few people in the audience shouted back at him, and then abruptly, the entire crowd walked out.
One man told News 4 off-camera as he exited, he and others “are tired of hearing the same old rhetoric.”
Eastern Niagara Health System has said it needs to reorganize, by moving all inpatient services to its Lockport hospital, and cutting the equivalent of 60 full-time jobs at the Newfane facility.
Gina Guido-Redden is one of the community members who’s helped her neighbors get organized, and work to save the hospital.
“We, as a community, turned our backs and walked out, because they have shut us out and we do not agree with what they’re doing,” Guido-Redden said. “And we’re trying to make that statement very clear.”
“They don’t want to listen to what we have to say,” Muscato told reporters. “They want to say we refuse to communicate with them? No, actually they refuse to communicate with us. And you saw a perfect example of it tonight.”
Citizens and hospital staff accuse the board members and Haar of mismanaging money, lack of transparency, and creating a toxic work environment for hospital employees. They say the health system’s leadership has refused offers of financial assistance, that could keep the hospital viable and operating at its present capacity.
“What they want to do is close down our rural hospital and trade it for an ambulatory care center that has a higher profit margin,” Guido-Redden said.
But Muscato said that a combination of factors, including a decrease in patients coming through the hospital’s doors, declining reimbursements from health insurers, and changes related to the Affordable Care Act have changed the hospital’s financial situation. He said although it is currently operating in the black, the cutbacks are necessary.
“We’re now confronted with making some tough decisions. Tough decisions are made every day in business,” Muscato said. “And unfortunately, hospitals are businesses that have to sometimes make tough decisions.”
SEIU 1199 union has already asked the New York State Department of Health to conduct an independent needs assessment of Eastern Niagara-Newfane and review the hospital’s finances. The town has also hired an attorney specializing in the health care industry to look at whether the hospital sought improper tax exemptions for its affiliated nursing homes.
Guido-Redden said Saturday, “We are now petitioning the Attorney General to vacate the entire board of directors.”
“I have absolutely no concern about the Attorney General becoming involved and trying to have us removed,” Muscato told reporters.
“We are going to fight, and we’re not going to stop,” Newfane Town Supervisor Tim Horanburg told Muscato and Haar. “But we would like, I would like, that hospital given back to the community. You took it from us; give it back.”