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“Devastated” workers, elected officials fight to stop TLC Lakeshore Hospital closing

WBFO News file photo

Healthcare workers and local elected officials are voicing opposition to the announcement earlier this month that TLC Lakeshore Hospital in Irving will close on Jan. 1.

The closing will impact up to 141 full-time and 60 part-time employees, including more than 160 members of 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East, who have launched a campaign called “Keep Our Care Alive.”

“We, at this present time, only have a full-service emergency room that’s available, and we have an in-patient 20-bed mental health unit and an in-patient 20-bed chemical dependency unit,” Kathi Manning, a 46-year veteran nurse at TLC Lakeshore. “All of those services, if the hospital closes, will not be available anywhere in the area.”

Manning joined more than 100 hospital employees, Emergency Medical Services workers and community members at a press conference Tuesday, the Observer Today reported, where speakers called on the Brooks-TLC Hospital System and the state government to avoid the closure.

Speaking to WBFO later by phone, Manning said the hospital regularly treats patients from throughout Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and southern Erie counties.

“Rural hospitals are where you need the help you most because people are so far out and aren’t close like people who live in the city. They [urban residents] have healthcare right around the corner. That’s why we cover such a big area.”

After spending 35 years in the emergency room, Manning now cares for patients in TLC Lakeshore’s chemical dependency unit, which just opened in 2018.

“Unfortunately, there is quite an epidemic in the area with people having problems with substance abuse. And if we close, there is no place for them to go,” Manning said. “And even with the emergency room being gone, it will result in a lot of deaths, which we don’t want to see.”

There have been 162 rural hospital closures since 2005, according to researchers at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Of those, 120 have closed since just 2010.

The future of Lakeshore Hospital has hung in the balance since at least 2013, when the TLC Health Network filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Announcing the hospital’s closure on Dec. 3, TLC said it faces a $7 million deficit for 2019, and Board Chairman Christopher Lanski told The Buffalo News that patient volume is simply too low to cover operating costs.

Brooks-TLC said it will try to transfer affected employees into positions at other hospitals in its system, and Manning said she’s heard that some nurses have been offered jobs at Brooks Memorial Hospital in Dunkirk, about a 20-minute drive south west. But she doesn’t see any local opportunities to continue providing chemical dependency care.

“I’ve put out applications to a couple other places, but unfortunately, I’m enjoying taking care of people that have substance abuse problems and there’s no job anywhere that I can go that’s close for that, so I won’t be able to work in that field again.”

State Senator George Borrello, Assemblymembers Andy Goodell and Joseph Giglio and Acting Chautauqua County Executive Stephen Abdella were among the local officials Tuesday calling on Brooks-TLC to explore alternatives to the sudden closure, according to the Observer. Sen. Borrello said he would travel to New York City Thursday to meet with fellow state legislators and demand a better plan.

In the meantime, employees like Manning still face starting the new year without a job.

“We were just devastated. I mean, there was a lot of crying—a lot of crying. People just had no warning. We just didn’t know that it could possibly happen because our services are so needed in the community.”

Kyle Mackie is a multimedia journalist with reporting experience in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Western Balkans and New York City. She joined WBFO to cover education and more in June 2019.
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