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Editor’s corner: As nearby hospitals suffer, Warren General succeeds

More than one year ago, the wheels were set in motion. Board members and the administration of the Brooks-TLC Hospital System Inc. announced the Lakeshore Hospital campus near Silver Creek, N.Y., would be closing within the coming months.

Unexpectedly, the quick, closed-door decision was met with anger, sadness and plenty of questions from the northern Chautauqua County community. “Despite efforts to reduce expenses and maintain hospital services, the losses being incurred at the TLC campus continue to rise,” said Christopher Lanski, chair of the Brooks-TLC Hospital System Board of Directors on Dec. 3. “Simply put, patient volume is too low to maintain services and cover the cost of operating the campus.”

Brooks-TLC’s financial struggles were well documented. In 2019 alone, both institutions lost a combined $20 million.

Maybe that’s why New York state’s 2006 Berger Commission recommendations called on the facility to close or have Brooks and Lakeshore work closer together. But that marriage attempt appeared doomed from the beginning.

Hundreds of jobs were shed at both sites over the years. But in the end, the money-losing operation closed its doors Feb. 2.

No one on that evening could have seen what was coming in the next six weeks. COVID-19 not only shutdown global economies, it put already struggling health-care facilities in a even worse predicament.

This example of a failed health-care system about 70 miles away is worth reflecting upon. It could be much worse here.

Thankfully, however, in Warren General Hospital there is a sense of stability and leadership.

In October, Chief Executive Officer Rick Allen talked about some recent successes for the facility, which not too long ago was struggling financially. As of today, that is no longer the case.

Allen, on that day, said revenues exceeded expenses for the first time in fiscal year 2019.

The hospital ended up in the black by about $50,000 on a $74 million budget. This year, the margin was much higher — just over $5 million.

“We’re operating at an extraordinary level,” he said.

That is far from the norm for rural health-care facilities. The situation is Silver Creek, though unfortunate, was not controlled. With cash flow suffering, there was no other choice but to close the facility.

Warren General, however, has seen improvements and is growing. In a time of uncertainty, that’s a tribute to the institution’s leadership and this community.

John D’Agostino is the regional editor of the Times Observer, The Post-Journal and the OBSERVER in Dunkirk. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call (716) 487-1111, ext. 253.

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