Lake Erie Regional plans Tri-County health upgrades

August 1, 2013 Updated Aug 1, 2013 at 9:52 AM EDT

By Tracey Drury, Buffalo Business First Reporter

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Lake Erie Regional plans Tri-County health upgrades

August 1, 2013 Updated Aug 1, 2013 at 9:52 AM EDT

As it begins to restructure services between its two existing hospitals, the Lake Erie Regional Health System has begun planning for $4.5 million in upgrades and renovations at its clinic in Gowanda and Lake Shore Hospital in Irving. And officials hope to use FEMA dollars to help pay for it.

System officials in recent weeks confirmed it had canceled its plans to build a $23 million hospital in Perrysburg to replace the former TLC Health Network/Tri-County Memorial Hospital facility in Gowanda. The site was demolished last year after being shut down following severe flooding in 2009.

Plans call for using FEMA funds as well as state dollars initially earmarked for the new hospital to create a new musculoskeletal center; upgrade an imaging center and making permanent services at what was intended as a temporary clinic.

J. Gary Rhodes, interim CEO at the Lake Erie system, which includes both TLC and Brooks Memorial Hospital in Dunkirk, cited declines in reimbursements and patient volume as well as increased costs when he spoke to reporters on July 19 about the board of directors' decision to not build a new hospital. Rhodes was not available this week to speak about redirecting the FEMA funds.

Three separate projects were filed in the past two weeks with the state Department of Health, all of them pointing to the FEMA dollars as well as additional DOH funds previously awarded through the Health Care Efficiency and Affordability Law of New York (HEAL-NY) grant program.

According to the filings, TLC seeks permanent approval for its extension clinic on Commercial Street in Gowanda where it will complete renovations to expand the clinic and add outpatient physical therapy services. The cost of the project is estimated at $2.08 million.

The system plans to acquire the 3,000-square-foot building that houses its Gowanda Urgent Care and Gowanda Medical Center clinic, add 5,100 square feet to the building to replace a temporary FEMA trailer and renovate another 400 square feet.

The project would be funded through the $1.8 million HEAL-NY grant previously awarded for the Gowanda hospital project, as well as an additional $298,158 it has requested through the same program.

TLC's Lake Shore Hospital on Routes 5 and 20 in Irving would see two projects:

• A $1.44 million, 11,000-square-foot musculoskeletal center, involving a renovation to create a physical therapy/occupational therapy outpatient clinic, a wound/vascular outpatient clinic and occupational medicine program.

• Upgrades totaling $1.1 million to renovate a 1,600-square-foot imaging area and replacing a 10-year-old CT scanner. The plan calls for relocating some functions and creating a more private location for women's mamography and other imaging services.

According to the filing, TLC has been working with FEMA to redirect the funds to alternate projects at Lake Shore that will "enhance patient care, reduce health system costs and enhance TLC's viability." The hospital system has submitted a formal request to repurpose the FEMA funds for the projects.

The system is also exploring how best to combine services between its three sites, with board members and new committees made up of physicians and community members beginning to coordinate services and create more efficiencies. The system is also receiving consulting assistance from UPMC Hamot, an Erie, Pa.-based hospital affiliate of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, with which Lake Erie has a strategic affiliation.

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