With just over two months until a scheduled shut-down of its Lake Shore Health Center, TLC Health System expects to name new senior leadership hires by the end of the week.
Timothy Cooper, one of three board members overseeing the struggling Chautauqua County hospital, said there’s still hope the hospital can be saved, along with 450 jobs.
“People like me are fighting to preserve it,” he said. “We are evaluating all of our options at this point.”
The TLC Health System currently includes Lake Shore Health in Irving, as well as the Gowanda Urgent Care and Gowanda Medical Center clinic; chemical dependency clinics in Derby and Cassadaga; and a primary care center in Forestville.
The TLC system has been part of the Lake Erie Regional Health System of New York (LERHSNY) since 2008 along with Brooks Memorial Hospital. In mid-October, the LERHSNY board cited $7 million in losses at Lake Shore in its decision to shut down the hospital this January. A few weeks later, the board voted to create the separate three-member TLC board to pursue options to save the hospital.
Cooper, a Derby resident who works as a Niagara County Family Court judge, has served as a board member for Lake Shore, TLC and LERHSNY for more than 25 years — and plans to continue those efforts by finding a way to keep the hospital open. The board has been meeting about twice weekly and is now finalizing the hiring of a chief executive and a chief financial officer.
“We’re getting our own staff in place to provide us with leadership to make the decisions that come next,” he said. “We need to get them on board and start generating the kinds of information we need to make the right decisions. The goal is preserving jobs and preserving health care in our community.”
Identifying a CEO when a closure date in January has already been requested with the State Department of Health makes recruiting a challenge, but Cooper said the board has identified individuals interested in taking on the role for an interim basis.
TLC/Lake Shore also continues to receive financial support from LERHSNY. Christopher Lanski, LERHSNY board president, issued a statement Monday to address what it called media reports critical of the board and the administration regarding its efforts at Lake Shore.
“Since the legally required announcement Oct. 15 of Lake Shore’s possible closure, not a day has passed without intense efforts at LERHSNY to do what’s best for health care in the Irving and Silver Creek area. Nearly all those efforts have been and will continue to be behind the scenes, not detailed in or for the media. The board and administration care a great deal about what the end result of this situation is. We continue working diligently toward a positive outcome for all involved.”
Rumors have been flying, including talk of a bankruptcy filing for TLC and efforts to transfer the Gowanda operations and off-campus clinics over to Brooks Memorial. State health officials say any transfer of services would require approvals by the Department of Health, and no applications have yet been filed.
Cooper said the new board hopes to keep all services operating under the TLC umbrella and is exploring all of its options.
Although the state has been generous in the past by providing funding for renovations and upgrades through the Health Care Efficiency and Affordability Law of New York (HEAL-NY) grant program, there are no existing grant programs to help hospitals going through financial crisis on the operations side.
“The health grants have been very generous, but we’re not finding any funding sources now to get us through this transition. We’re kind of on our own,” he said.
Cooper said one possibility still on the table is an offer from Silver Creek businessman Tony Borrello, owner of Pro Oil and TPS Propane, who offered $11 million to buy the hospital and operate it with an unidentified health-care partner. The board is also reaching out to other potential partners.
“We’re hearing from a lot of people and we’re interested in doing something that makes sense for the community,” he said. “It’s not about this health system or that health system or whatever name’s on the door. That’s not an issue for us. The issue is that those facilities are used in a way that contributes to the community and the way they were intended.”
Lake Shore, he said, is certainly not the only health system that’s struggling. Hospitals throughout the state are dealing with declining revenues, increasing mandates for technology and rising costs for services. And rural facilities are having an even tougher time.
“It’s a very difficult environment in health care,” Cooper said. “There’s a lot of environmental factors that make it difficult to be financially viable, but we’re trying to find the right mix so that we can provide services to the community.”
“Health care is a very tough business right now. We’re are open to discuss what keeps health care in our community with anyone willing to discuss it, any system, any group,” he said.