Eastern Niagara Health System downsizing more to remain 'sustainable'

May 2, 2019

Eastern Niagara Health System has announced a “2020 Transformation Plan” that will expand some services and cut others.

Hospital Director of Community Relations Carolyn Moore said the only comment the health system will be making is in a statement released to the media, including WBFO, and local leaders.

According to the statement, the plan puts resources into the clinical services the community needs and uses the most. That includes expanding its emergency room, investing in UBMD Emergency Medicine and Great Lakes Medical Imaging, and continuing its Family Medicine Clinic at 475 Transit Rd.

“As our new emergency department project progresses, it will heighten our ability to provide a much higher level of emergency services and acute care for the entire eastern Niagara County region,' said ENH President and CEO Anne McCaffrey. "This will clearly be our vision for the future and the cornerstone of care we provide to our community. As we focus more on providing the fundamentals of health care, we will also be elevating the quality of care we provide and increase patient satisfaction. Our new accreditation with DNV is further evidence of this commitment.”

Since April of 2016, ENH and Kaleida Health have maintained a loose affiliation. Kaleida assumed responsibility and authority as an "active parent" in 2018, the same time McCaffrey, the former mayor of Lockport, replaced Clare Haar as CEO.

Other services will be discontinued. They include maternity at ENH's Lockport site; dialysis, radiology and Express Care at its Newfane site; and the hospital's Osteopathic Family Medicine Residency program. Continuing only the 475 Transit Rd. Family Medicine location means closing two other locations at 5975 South Transit Rd. and  53 Elizabeth Dr., both in Lockport with two physicians each, according to the ENH website.

Board Chair Rocco Surace said the smaller community hospital can no longer sustain services with low use at multiple locations.

“The Board of Directors understands that transitions like these are very difficult. These decisions were not made easily or without extensive analysis and reflection," Surace said. "As a smaller community hospital, ENH must take these necessary steps and be proactive to secure our future. We are committed to serve the community for the long term. This new service model and transition of care is what is needed to position our hospital for the future.”

He said the changes will result in $2.1 million in savings and impact 33 full-time employees, while the health system will be seeking state grants to relieve debt service and make technology improvements.

"The financial losses are impacting the entire organization and it can no longer operate in this manner," the statement said.

Officials made a special to the cutting of maternity services, saying as of June 30, obstetrical care will be facilitated at Millard Fillmore Suburban or Oishei Children’s hospitals.

"Over the past two decades, births in this unit have declined by almost 40%. 65% of women in our primary service area have chosen to deliver babies at other hospitals. This decline has been intensified by a population decline in Niagara County, significant decrease in births and the reduction of women of child-bearing age in the region by 24%," according to the statement.

It blamed "changes in reimbursement and regulations regarding staffing" for the unit's "significant" financial losses.

There are a number of unions that represents ENH employees. SEIU 1199 Administrative Organizer Michele Jerge, RN, told WBFO she represents 16 maternity nurses and said the union found out about the cuts Wednesday at the same time as everyone else.

"They had like a town hall meeting (with all employees) and at that point, they announced this," Jerge said. "I was pretty much blindsided by the Newfane services, which is dialysis, radiology, the Express Care. Maternity we had heard inklings about, but we had a labor management meeting regarding this on April 11 and its was business as usual at that time."

Jerge said the union had asked specifically what was going to happen with maternity, but hospital officials  said "nothing right now. We'll let you know when it happens."

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center told WBFO they are ready to take on any additional maternity patients if needed.

"We now have patients, moms who live in Newfane, live in Wilson and even live in Lockport who make arrangements," said Judi Nolan Powell, vice president of the Foundation at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center. "We know when they're coming. Our providers are available 24/7. When that baby's ready, they're ready to deliver. That hasn't been an issue for us in the past. We've got patients from across Niagara County."