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By Mary E. LaRowe and Christopher Lanski

Efforts to preserve healthcare in the Chautauqua region by the Brooks-TLC Hospital System Board of Directors have come under fire. The board recognizes the loss of any health service wounds the community, and we understand the emotional reaction.

On behalf of all our board members, however, our focus now must be on the future and working collaboratively to make sure that a new hospital is built in Fredonia, preserving regional services. We face extraordinary, generational challenges. According to the August 2019 Becker’s Hospital Review, 113 rural hospitals closed in the past decade in 27 states. And some 21 percent of rural hospitals – 700 in all – are at risk of closure in coming years.

As we work with the state Health Department [DOH], our elected representatives, union leaders and all stakeholders to move this $67 million hospital to ground-breaking, we seek community support. One pillar of the new hospital funding and approval process will be to demonstrate community commitment and economic viability. To that end, we want to present some facts and clarify a few misconceptions.

In regard to the TLC closing, the hospital and the DOH months ago coordinated numerous prerequisite steps necessary for closure. The planning was very well thought out and carefully considered. Relative to Kaleida Health’s role, Kaleida is not a source of bailout funds or additional revenue nor does it direct operations or make decisions at Brooks-TLC. Our management agreement with Kaleida Health provides resources at reasonable cost.

Next, our leadership team continues to work closely with DOH, as we have for the last four years. Our financial position is crucial in procuring funding to transform to a replacement hospital for the aged Brooks campus, now more important with the closure of TLC.

Hospital leaders worked diligently to reduce expenses by $8 million in recent years and maintain services at TLC, but inpatient volume fell in response to economic pressures from insurance companies; implementation of new technologies for outpatient care; and declining regional population. These factors further eroded revenues. We face similar issues at Brooks, and closings also recently occurred in Lockport, Newfane and North Tonawanda.

We fought hard to keep services viable at both campuses, but market forces and a litany of other factors made it impossible to maintain both. Nonetheless, with DOH and state Office of Mental Health guidance, we are monitoring community members with mental health challenges, and re-training staff at Brooks to care for these individuals.

Board members also faced invalid criticism as “outsiders.” Every one of our board members works locally. They serve as unpaid volunteers because they care about preserving healthcare for our communities. To provide that quality healthcare into the future, we must have the cooperation and support of the community and its leaders. That is why we’ve briefed newly elected officials.

For months, we knew that a transformation plan involved making difficult decisions. There will be more to be made. But all decisions are made to ensure that our communities have access to necessary care.

Mary E. LaRowe is president and CEO and Christopher Lanski is board chair of Brooks-TLC Hospital System Inc.