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Sheehan's improved outlook
Business reorganization, renovations, new specialty clinics -- even a name change -- help to revitalize the once-ailing city hospital

Sheehan Health Network has come a long way from bankruptcy a few years ago through reorganization, a name change, renovations, upgrades and additions.

Just ask Carla Kelly, one of the many East Side residents the hospital serves.

Kelly used to go to Erie County Medical Center for her medical appointments but switched to Sheehan in 2008 at the suggestion of one of its staffers. She sees four doctors regularly at Sheehan's Emerson Young Clinic located in the Commodore Perry Homes, where she lives. For X-rays, MRIs and mammograms, she goes to the hospital's main site a few blocks away at 425 Michigan Ave.

"Working with Sheehan has been very helpful to me," said Kelly, who attended a recent open house at the clinic, which the hospital reopened three years ago.

Sheehan's medical unit will be restarted next month. The Family Dental Clinic was retooled and reopened in January. The renovated 1970s-era foyer and lobby opened in February 2010. A new Family Care Clinic opened last year. And an Urgent Care Center is being planned.

"People often think of us as a place you send substance-abuse patients. We have more than that. We have clinics and other specialties," said Mary H. Kargbo, who came on board last October as president and chief executive officer.

Kargbo began her career as a registered nurse in Middlesex, England. Before she took the position at Sheehan, she was chief operating officer for 18 years at Orleans Community Health, formerly Medina Memorial Health Care System.

At Sheehan, Kargbo took over for Lucille K. Sheedy, a retired health care administrator who had worked at hospitals in Niagara and Wyoming counties before stepping in on an interim basis. Sheedy has taken over for June W. Hoeflich, a former HSBC senior vice president who also had come out of retirement, stepping in as CEO from 2007 to 2009 to help transform the struggling hospital.

Built in 1884, Sheehan was Buffalo's first hospital, Kargbo said. It was started as an emergency hospital by Sisters of Charity. When Erie County Medical Center was built in the 1970s, some of Sheehan's services moved there, including the trauma center and the burn unit.

Decades later -- after problems with billing, patient admissions and other issues -- Sheehan began to fail, hemorrhaging money to the tune of thousands of dollars a month. It first filed for bankruptcy in 2002 but lost that protection for failing to live up to provisions of the plan. It refiled in 2004.

Two years later, the hospital emerged from bankruptcy, led first by former Erie County Budget Director Sheila K. Kee, who was president and chief executive officer from 2004 until 2007, and then by Hoeflich.

Revenues soon began exceeding expenses, and patient visits steadily increased.

These days, Sheehan has a number of specialized clinics to care for residents of the neighborhood it serves, which has a very high poverty rate and high rates of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma.

In January, the University at Buffalo partnered with the hospital to reopen the Family Dental Clinic.

The Family Care Clinic, which opened last year, sees 600 patients each month. Two doctors and one physician's assistant work there Monday through Friday. Specialists, including cardiovascular specialists, obstetricians/gynecologists, pediatricians and a neurologist, are available on certain days, Kargbo said.

The medical unit, which was closed under reorganization in 2007 as a cost-saving measure, will reopen April 4. It will have 10 beds and will provide inpatient care.

The Urgent Care Center planned to open this year for noncritical care, including sprains, cuts to be sutured and other "quick treatments," Kargbo said. It will be housed in the old wing of the building, where the emergency room once was located.

In addition, hospital officials are in talks with officials from Roswell Park Cancer Institute about opening a cancer screening site at the hospital, and there are plans to open a pain center where people with chronic pain would be shown ways of managing or eliminating it instead of using narcotics.

"What we are trying to do is provide services for those close to home," Kargbo said. "It's a place for all of their ailments so the family can come to one place from birth to death."

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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