The financially troubled CCS Oncology, once one of the region's largest private cancer practices, will shut down operations next week.
CCS Oncology and CCS Medical, its non-oncology branch, began mailing notices of the closing to about 1,000 patients on Thursday, two weeks after the practice filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. That figure includes patients actively receiving treatment and some who aren't.
CCS officials had planned to reorganize and continue operating the practice, with a focus on oncology care and with a slimmed-down staff. But the practice was battered by the loss of physicians and patients and millions of dollars owed to vendors, its lender and the Internal Revenue Service.
"We understand that this is a very difficult time for you. Our priority is to ensure the continuity of your medical care," stated the CCS letter to patients.
The practice's last formal day of operation is April 27, but a few appointments will be kept the week after.
CCS in its letter told patients with immediate cancer-related medical needs that they can arrange for services at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Patients were also notified that they could alternatively follow their CCS Oncology physicians wherever they may relocate or transfer to another cancer practice of their choice.
Roswell Park, which arranged with CCS to assess patients within one business day of calling for an appointment, organized a forum for patients seeking alternative services at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Roswell Park Amherst Center, 100 College Parkway, Williamsville.
Dr. Marc S. Ernstoff, chairman of the department of medicine at Roswell Park, said the cancer center established a phone line and forum for patients seeking information.
He did not know how many CCS Oncology patients in active cancer treatment will need fairly quick transition to a new physician, but expressed confidence that Roswell Park has the capacity to handle their care and make arrangements to transfer their medical records.
Last month, FBI agents raided CCS locations in Erie and Niagara counties as part of the government's investigation into possible Medicare fraud at the practice. CCS officials have denied wrongdoing and no charges have been filed.
CCS Oncology, several related companies and CCS CEO Dr. W. Sam Yi filed for Chapter 11 on April 2.
CCS has struggled financially since 2016, when Independent Health announced it was removing CCS Oncology from its network. The company has about $11 million in assets and about $25 million in liabilities, according to CCS' bankruptcy attorney, Arthur G. Baumeister Jr.
CCS' primary secured creditors are Bank of America, which accused Yi and CCS in a lawsuit of defaulting on $16 million in loans, and the Internal Revenue Service, which is owed more than $6 million in unpaid federal taxes, according to court filings.
Both have liens against CCS that appear to be worth more than the practice's assets, said Mark J. Schlant, the appointed Chapter 11 trustee. If that's the case, then CCS' hundreds of unsecured creditors would receive nothing, Schlant said.
Though CCS wanted to remain open, the practice wasn't bringing in enough revenue to support its operations, Schlant said. And the secured creditors objected to letting the practice spend its cash except to help close down the practice.
The bankruptcy court judge has approved spending money to pay a provider of medication and to pay some wages only to oncology-related employees and administrative employees.
It was clear that shuttering CCS in an orderly manner, to protect its patients, was the best option, Schlant said. He began meeting with CCS employees this week.
Because CCS is a private practice, it was not required to inform the state Health Department of its closing, but the Health Department is monitoring the situation, a spokeswoman said.
The Chapter 11 proceeding could convert to a Chapter 7 liquidation in the coming weeks. After May 4, only essential employees will remain.
"Dr. Yi is very disappointed. It was his strong desire to continue treating his patients," Baumeister said.
Sharon Suriani, a retired teacher from Cheektowaga who has received care from CCS Oncology since 2013, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, was saddened by news of the practice's closure. But, Suriani said, "When they sent the FBI in there, I figured I should get out."
Suriani, who is now in remission but continues to be followed, said she plans to continue her oncology care with a doctor who formerly worked at CCS Oncology.
"I feel bad. Dr. Yi was a great doctor and was very nice to me," she said. "I want to be loyal, but not at the expense of good care."
Kaleida Health, through its Western New York Urology Associates and its Cancer Care of Western New York, has, combined with Erie County Medical Center, the largest outpatient oncology program in the area. Kaleida Health has hired 10 former CCS physicians and has signed a lease for the first floor at Windsong Medical Park in Williamsville where CCS closed a clinic space in February, according to Donald Boyd, the system's executive vice president.
Kaleida also leased the second floor space in the same building that previously housed an ambulatory surgery site.
“As we have said previously, we continue to hear from and see former CCS patients," Boyd said in a statement. "So we are prepared to handle the latest announcement and the patients immediately impacted. Important to note that we have seen an increase of oncology patients over the past year and we are treating a number of former CCS patients in a host of diagnoses including breast, lung, colorectal and GYN.”
Many of the remaining patients at CCS Oncology are insured by BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York. The insurer in a statement said it has been preparing for the possibility of the closure, including a plan to assist members move to other medical practices in its network of physicians.
At Univera Healthcare, Dr. Richard Vienne, vice president and chief medical officer, said he was surprised by the short time frame between notification and closure.
News Medical Reporter Henry L. Davis contributed to this report.