NEWFANE – Eastern Niagara Hospital responded Thursday to many of the claims made earlier this week by Newfane Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg, who has been leading public response to what he says is a possible closure of the hospital’s 63-bed Newfane site.
In a lengthy statement, the hospital contradicted almost everything Horanburg told a crowd of more than 200 people Monday night in Town Hall about the alleged mismanagement of Eastern Niagara Health System, which operates the Newfane and Lockport hospitals.
Horanburg said he’s hoping for a much larger crowd for a scheduled rally at 10 a.m. Saturday at Miller Hose Fire Company in Newfane.
In other developments, a petition drive began Thursday in support of keeping the 63-bed former Inter-Community Memorial Hospital of Newfane open.
The Niagara County Legislature passed a resolution this week urging hospital CEO Clare A. Haar to bring in outsiders to study the system’s future with the goal of keeping both the Newfane site and the 134-bed Lockport site open.
Horanburg said, “My big goal is to keep things the way they are. Bring a third party in and look at the whole scenario.”
Horanburg sounded the alarm about the Newfane hospital’s future after he and other northern Niagara County supervisors met with Haar on March 7. Haar has not been available for an interview, but the supervisors have said she expressed concern about financial losses at Newfane.
The hospital acknowledges 15 layoffs since Jan. 1. Newfane workers at Monday’s meeting, who declined to give their names for fear of retribution, said the number is really 31. About 200 people worked there at the start of the year.
In Thursday’s statement, the hospital reacted to what it called “incorrect statements.”
Hospital spokeswoman Carolyn Moore said in a telephone interview that Horanburg’s charge that the hospital wasted $7 million in a state grant by redoing the Newfane maternity ward and then closing it six months later is just wrong.
Moore said the grant was $9.1 million at the time of the formal 2009 merger between the two hospitals. They had been under joint management since 1999.
Moore said the main purpose of the grant was to pay off the hospitals’ debts. Among those debts was $2 million that she said the Newfane hospital borrowed as its contribution toward the merger funding.
Horanburg said, “Everything I’ve been told said that Newfane [hospital] had $2 million in the bank.”
“At that time the money was not in the bank account,” Moore contended.
As for the maternity ward’s closure in 2010, Moore said that came three years, not six months, after it had been refurbished.
“The [patient] volume declined and we decided we could better serve the public by consolidating the services,” Moore said.
“That’s fine,” Horanburg responded. “It’s still a lot of money down the chute.”
Moore said the Newfane hospital bought the nursing home now known as the Newfane Rehabilitation and Health Care Center before the two hospitals linked up in 1999, because the nursing home’s owner had gone bankrupt and the hospital didn’t want to see the nursing home close. The Eastern Niagara statement did not deny Horanburg’s claim that the nursing home is losing $700,000 a year.
Moore “absolutely” denied charges that Eastern Niagara Hospital is trying to force patients into the Lockport site, and also said the hospital’s decision to build a $3 million outpatient surgery center, scheduled to open this summer, was not in response to two Lockport surgeons’ similar project.
“I don’t believe it,” Horanburg said.