With approvals by the state Department of Health, Eastern Niagara Hospital (ENH) will discontinue inpatient services Aug. 29 at its Newfane hospital and reclassify its ER as an off-campus emergency department for its Lockport hospital site.
The approvals, issued this week, follow a limited review by DOH staff and come about six months after concerns first arose about the sustainability of operations at the hospital's rural Niagara County site near Lake Ontario.
ENH officials have cited dwindling patient numbers and financial difficulties, saying reconfiguring and rightsizing services between the two sites is the only way to ensure continued services for the patients it serves. In an interview last month, hospital CEO Clare Haar pointed to system-wide losses of $1.7 million through May and predicted even with the planned changes the hospital will likely end the year in the red.
In an email statement issued Wednesday, Carolyn Moore, the hospital's director of community relations, said the hospital hopes to sustain continuity of care and preserve health care in the region for the long term.
"We will strive to make this a seamless transition and assist patients with any necessary adjustments," she said.
According to the statement, residents in the ENH service area will soon receive a mailing detailing the changes and reiterating some of the reasons for the restructuring, to be followed later this fall by a directory of services at each facility.
The restructuring calls for providing inpatient services only at Lockport, including medical/surgical, intensive care and surgery. The emergency department at Newfane will be retained as well as outpatient services, including lab draw, radiology, CT scan, mammography, ultrasound, physical and occupational therapy and renal dialysis. Also to be cut from Newfane: pharmaceutical services, dental and ambulatory surgery.
Layoffs are expected to impact up to 185 workers, with service transitions expected to begin in mid-October.
Opponents to the plan include community members as well as local officials and state legislators, who say the hospital administration has done little to engage the community and offer alternatives to the plan. The group, called Save ENH, has also been calling for Haar's resignation and a restructuring of the hospital system's board of directors.
Gina Guido-Redden, a representative of the community group and citizens advocate, said the group has petitioned the state Attorney General's Office to investigate possible dereliction of duties by the hospital board and was told the case has been assigned to a representative at the Charities Bureau. The goal there is to avoid future closures, she said.
"We always understood we may not have success in time to save the service closures," she said. "This is not a sustainable model. We are going to continue doing this to make sure we don't lose both of these hospitals."
As back up to its claims, the Save ENH group has compiled https://www.facebook.com/groups/514569038653745/ a slew of documents it says demonstrates just how bad things have gotten under the hospital's current leadership, including financial documents, quality ratings from several independent groups as well as state and federal reports on hospital-acquired infections.
Also, the state Department of Labor is gathering information about potential labor law violations related to overtime pay from employees who received separate paychecks and W-2s from each hospital site.
The group also points to misaligned investments of millions of dollars into a robotic surgical system and a new ambulatory surgery center when funds should have been directed at improving quality and systems at the two existing facilities.
"Instead of taking any spare money and reinvesting in Lockport to ensure quality, or in Newfane, they opened a third facility where there is no demand," Guido-Redden said.
Hospital officials declined to comment on the additional actions underway by the community opposition group. A website has been created to answer additional questions at www.AskENH.com.