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State approves Massena Memorial request to close critical-care unit

By Eric Reinhardt


No layoffs are planned    

Massena Memorial Hospital plans to close its four-bed critical-care unit after the New York State Department of Health (DOH) approved its request for the closure. (PHOTO CREDIT: MASSENA MEMORIAL HOSPITAL FACEBOOK PAGE)

MASSENA — Massena Memorial Hospital (MMH) recently announced plans to close its four-bed critical-care unit (CCU) after the New York State Department of Health (DOH) approved its request to do so.

The MMH board of directors on Aug. 19 voted to approve a closure plan for the CCU, pending DOH approval. It made the request the following day.

With the closure and “other changes to improve efficiency and reduce unnecessary costs,” MMH plans to eliminate 13 positions that are currently staffed, but other jobs are available for those employees, the organization said on Sept. 23.

Those affected include 11 full-time and two part-time positions. Other positions within MMH are available for nine of those affected staff members. For the other four staffers — three full-time, one part-time — jobs are available at other St. Lawrence Health System facilities, MMH said.

As a result of the upcoming closure, MMH will be able to save about $1 million annually, David Bender, CEO of Massena Memorial Hospital, said.

“Massena Memorial today takes a step forward in trying to improve its financial picture and ensure the continuation of quality, accessible health care for the people of Massena and the surrounding communities,” Bender said in a statement. “Fewer than five patients per month met the criteria for admission to the CCU. It was difficult to recruit and retain critical care staff. And the cost was prohibitive.” 

Loretta Perez, chair of the Massena Memorial Hospital board of directors, added, “The board thoroughly reviewed this proposal — its impact on the health of our community and the financial health of our hospital — before we voted to approve the closure of the CCU last month. It was the right decision then and we’re glad that DOH, after their review, agreed with us and approved us moving forward with the closure.”

Perez had noted back in August that MMH’s decision “mirrors actions” taken by many rural hospitals across the country to close their CCU units because of low utilization. “Closing the CCU is an essential step in achieving the goal of putting Massena Memorial on a path to financial sustainability,” she added.

The emergency room will remain open and fully operational and other critical patient-care services such as cardiac monitoring (telemetry) will remain available to MMH patients. Strict protocols have been put in place to ensure that the few patients who might otherwise require CCU-level care will have access to such care in the appropriate facility.

Hospital’s future

The state DOH also approved MMH reducing the number of certified beds to 25, which is “consistent” with Massena Memorial’s request to convert to a critical access hospital (CAH). Becoming a CAH will mean a net revenue gain of $2.6 million per year, MMH said. 

The state has approved an application for CAH status. It is now pending at the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

In July, New York State awarded Massena Memorial a $20 million grant from its Health Care Facility Transformation Fund to help bolster MMH’s “precarious” finances and “advance ongoing efforts to ensure the people of Massena and the surrounding area can receive high quality health-care services for years to come.”

The transformation grant was made contingent upon St. Lawrence Health System creating an entirely new nonprofit entity that will acquire Massena Memorial’s assets and then operate the hospital in Massena as part of St. Lawrence Health System, in the same way that Canton-Potsdam Hospital and Gouverneur Hospital are run.

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