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Hospital plan becomes issue for care of mentally ill

IRVING – The recent announcement of the closing of Lake Shore Hospital in Irving has presented many questions about where medical services will take place, including patients facing mental health care emergencies.

The emergency room at Lake Shore is just one of two access centers in Chautauqua County where patients who may require an inpatient stay in a mental health unit can be evaluated.

The staff at the hospital is specially trained to determine if people are a “danger to themselves or others.” This determination can result in a stay in a unit like the one at Lake Shore Hospital that faces closure. It could also result in a patient who may be considered less harmful being given temporary care and referrals to other area professionals in the mental health field.

The only other facility with qualified technicians is WCA Hospital in Jamestown.

Chautauqua County’s director of health and human service said care for people with mental illness is going to be a primary concern. After the Lake Shore closing was announced, she immediately expressed her thoughts about the loss of the facility’s mental health unit.

Emergency Services Director Julius Leone said he was “shocked” by the news of the closing. He said he never saw the announcement coming, noting that Lake Shore had just invested in its emergency room.

“At this point we don’t know if there will be any services left there,” he said of the Lake Shore site. He said there have been talks about an emergency room or “urgent care” type facility being run in Irving.

Leone said that Silver Creek’s emergency squad, which operates two ambulances with volunteer EMTs would be the most affected by the loss. He said he has been in touch with Chief Jeff Griewisch, and they plan to have a meeting to talk about options.

“Basically they will have to take patients to the nearest facility if Lake Shore closes,” said Leone. He said in Silver Creek that would probably be Brooks Memorial Hospital in Dunkirk, which is about nine miles away.

Leone said the loss may also mean more use of air flights for seriously ill or injured patients. He said local departments already have sites where a helicopter can land for a medical transport. “Realistically, air-flight transports may occur more often depending on the situation,” he said.

In Dunkirk, Fire Chief Keith Ahlstrom said his department only transports to Brooks Hospital, so they did not anticipate many issues with the change. But he agreed that the loss of the mental health access center could present a problem.

Ahlstrom said Alstar EMS, which is operated by WCA Services and includes Starflight helicopter medevacs, handles the transportation of patients who are in need of a mental health evaluation.

Ron Hanson of WCA said he is awaiting a coordinating meeting with other emergency providers so they can be prepared for the potential loss of the mental health access center.

“We hope the meeting happens in a week or two,” said Hanson. He agreed that the announcement of the loss took many local emergency medical professionals and volunteers by surprise.