TLC Health System is continuing to work on alternatives to shutting down its Lake Shore Health Care Center.
With the clock ticking down toward a potential closing date in either mid to late January, hospital officials said Thursday in an email statement they will continue to provide health care to the community while working to identify short- and long-term financing.
"Our board of directors and administration are working to keep our doors open," said John Galati, who joined TLC weeks ago as interim CEO. "We have been diligent in our efforts to obtain short and long term financing to meet our current obligations and future financial needs. And, we have been in discussions with perspective partners/interested parties to accomplish this goal."
Galati, who declined a live interview, cited lower reimbursements, fluctuating volumes and referral patterns and a general economic downtrend for the health system's financial woes. The system, including the hospital in Irving, a nursing home and several outpatient facilities in Chautauqua County, is projected to lose $7 million this year.
Plans for closing down Lake Shore were announced in October by the Lake Erie Regional Health System of New York, which oversees both TLC and Brooks Memorial Hospital. LERHSNY later created a separate three-member board to oversee TLC and concentrate on possible ways to save Lake Shore. That led to Galati's hiring.
In the email, Galati said the system continues to provide emergency, acute and sub-acute, outpatient, surgical, behavioral health and primary care.
But with no guarantees about their future employment, staffers have begun to leave. Since the closing was first announced, total staff has dropped from 460 to about 350 full-time equivalents. Part of that stems from the transfer of residents out of the 120-bed nursing home unit. Only about eight long-term care residents remain in the facility and a handful of rehab patients, down from 61 long-term care residents and six short-term rehab patients in October.
Galati said Lake Shore's HR plan remains the same as it has been for years, with staffing levels adjusted according to patient volumes. The hospital, he said, is working with the state Department of Labor and local Workforce Investment Boards to host onsite education sessions for employees, including job-search tools, resume preparation and interviewing skills in the event that some of its services or programs are no longer sustainable.
But he acknowledged it's a challenging time.
"This has been a very difficult and challenging time for the community, our employees and their families," he said. "It is with this in mind, that we strive to do our best to assure fairness and respect for each other in all efforts."
Though the initial closure date was pegged at Jan. 31 in a filing with the labor department, TLC has asked state officials to move the date back to Jan. 14, but no decisions have yet been made.
Earlier this week, the union representing more than 200 of Lake Shore's workers filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board regarding TLC's refusal to agree to proposals over accrued time payouts and insurance coverage for workers.
Todd Hobler, vice president of SEIU 1199 United Healthcare Workers East, said the union has been working since October to determine the closure's impact on health insurance, severance pay, and guaranteed work hours for employees who commit to remaining on the job through the crisis - all to no avail.
"Our disappointment honestly is that the employer has created a situation where employees have been asked to stay on and have been told at various times that there's the possibility of continued operations, yet are not being guaranteed by the employer anything in terms of their paid time off, even their hours," he said. "People have been reporting to work and then are told to go home. All of these things have created real hardships for the people who are working there, and that could have been avoided."
Hobler said the hospital's attorney and other executives at the negotiating table have said they're simply not in a position to guarantee anything for employees, who may end up having to make claims in bankruptcy court to recoup income from accrued time and health insurance costs.
"We've been told by the attorney and the employer across the table that a bankruptcy filing is to occur at any time, and until that happens, they're not in a position to guarantee employees anything," Hobler said.
SEIU has advised TLC employees to make decisions about their future on the assumption that the hospital and nursing home will no longer be in operation by the end of this month.
A job fair will be held Dec. 19 to help those workers transition.
"What we're wanting the employer to do is really just come clean with people about what's happening and give the workers opportunities to make choices about their future," Hobler said. "People's lives are in the balance and it's near the holidays. It's very distressful."
Scott Butler, who handles public relations as director for development at TLC, said the bankruptcy decision has not yet been made and the organization continues to look for alternatives.
"Our top goal remains to find a solution to avoid closure if possible," he said.