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MMH Community Coalition plans Aug. 5 meeting

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MASSENA — The group that is working to prevent Massena Memorial Hospital from going private is encouraging community members to join its efforts.

Jason Garcia, a member of the MMH Community Coalition who said he was born at Massena Memorial, said organizers want to involve the community in the fight to keep the town-owned hospital from becoming a private facility.

A meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Aug. 5 at Dar’s Place, and anyone interested in keeping the hospital “community-owned” is urged to attend, organizers said last week.

The group was established this year over concerns about hospital officials’ considering privatization.

“We have meetings frequently. We’re trying to get out there and advertise more to get more people, especially community members, involved,” Mr. Garcia said. “Obviously this is not just a hospital-employee issue. This is an issue that impacts everybody.”

The informal Aug. 5 meeting will include an open discussion about the current situation, as well as alternatives to privatization.

“The coalition is not anti-hospital,” Mr. Garcia said. “It’s more of pro-public hospital.”

The Massena Memorial Hospital board of managers voted last week to hire the law firm of Hancock Estabrook LLP, Syracuse, for up to $100,000 to explore transitioning from a municipal hospital to a private, nonprofit entity.

The study will consist of three phases. Phase one, which is expected to take two to three months, will include the study of all contracts, such as vendors and employees, to see if anything would prohibit the transition to a private facility.

Phase two would the implementation phase in which the paperwork such as a Certificate of Need would be filed to begin the conversion process. That could take one or two months.

Phase three would involve going to the Internal Revenue Service to acquire tax-exempt status. That could take four to six months.

Driving the study are concerns about projected losses of millions of dollars over the next 10 years.

Hospital CEO Charles F. Fahd II has said the hospital anticipates a projected $15 million loss in reimbursements over the next 10 years and a directive by the state commissioner of health to explore options such as collaborating, affiliating, merging or sharing with other facilities, leaving the hospital with little choice but to investigate the move.

At last week’s board of managers meeting, Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said: “We have to do something, there is no doubt. MMH is headed into unknown, rough financial waters, and we need to be prepared for whatever comes our way.”

Members of the MMH Community Coalition, who have had a presence at recent board of managers and Town Council meetings, fear that by privatizing Massena Memorial, residents would be giving up control over the hospital; accountability for patient health; health care services that are not seen as profitable; retirement security for workers; good-paying, middle class jobs; and wages that are spent in the local community.

They said the hospital belongs to all taxpayers in the town, who should have control over its destiny, control of the quality of care provided and control of what services are or are not provided.

They have asked residents to write letters to members of the Massena Town Council and also sign a petition at www.change.org/petitions/keep-mmh-public. They also have a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ourmmh.

“I think they’re doing good. The petition signing has toned down a little bit because it’s on the back burner. We’re doing a lot of other things trying to get people involved,” Mr. Garcia said.

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