Schimminger Urges State Health Commissioner to Spare DeGraff

February 20, 2007

Hard on the heels of introducing legislation aimed at protecting DeGraff Memorial Hospital from a state commission’s recommendation that it be turned into a nursing home, Assemblyman Robin Schimminger is asking the state’s newly chosen health commissioner to take a critical look at the commission’s report.

Schimminger released a copy of a letter he sent to Dr. Richard F. Daines urging the acting health commissioner to “take a fresh look at the report of the Commission on Health Care Facilities and – most particularly – to reject the commission’s recommendation for DeGraff Memorial Hospital.” The health commissioner has the responsibility of implementing the commission’s recommendations.

The legislator reiterated his belief that the Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century employed a flawed process that produced a flawed product and cited his strong concerns about the potential negative effects of the proposed conversion of the North Tonawanda hospital’s 70 acute care beds to long-term-care.

“I am committed to working to keep this hospital open in our community by pursuing every avenue I can,” said Schimminger, expressing his hope that the new health commissioner would be open to improving upon the report issued by a commission controlled by former-Governor George Pataki.

Copy of Schimminger letter to Daines follows.

February 16, 2007

Richard F. Daines, M.D.
Acting Commissioner
New York State Department of Health
Corning Tower
Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12237

Dear Dr. Daines:

As you know, last November the Commission on Health Facilities in the 21st Century issued its recommendations, which included targeting a number of hospitals and nursing homes for conversion or closure.

After hearing from hundreds of my constituents and chairing a daylong Assembly Health Committee hearing in Western New York on the findings, I urged the Legislature to reject that report on a number of counts – a flawed and secretive process with inadequate public input, a product that lacked supporting evidence for its recommendations, insider-driven decision-making that failed to address community concerns, resultant gaps in services to distinct communities, and the opportunity afforded by a new administration to redirect the Commission process in such a manner as to increase transparency and produce a more complete and publicly palatable result. Although I and my like-minded colleagues were unable to push through a resolution rejecting the Commission’s report before the December 31 deadline, you still have the opportunity to improve considerably upon the recommendations, and I am writing to urge you to undertake to do so, and most specifically with regard to DeGraff Memorial Hospital, a hospital that is located, relied upon and cherished in my Assembly district.

As you are aware, while the Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century was charged with addressing health care across the state, it was also directed to consider the local and regional impacts of its recommendations. For this reason, the Commission was structured to include six local members for each region of the state who were empowered to act as full members of the Commission for all matters pertaining specifically to their region. The Commission’s final report for the Western region, which included the recommendation that DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda be converted from an acute care hospital to a skilled nursing facility, failed to win the support of a majority of the Western regional commissioners – that is, those members of the Commission who best know and understand health care in Western New York.

Further, the recommendations that were adopted for the region did not immediately impact the two largest hospitals in the region (Buffalo General and Erie County Medical Center). Rather, these hospitals were directed to work toward the creation of a new combined governance structure. Both were thus held harmless from immediate bed reductions; yet bed reduction could come later through the combined governance structure. No hospital should be closed in the region before the Buffalo General Hospital/Erie County Medical Center governance issues are resolved, since substantial bed reduction may occur through that process, avoiding the necessity to close vital community hospitals such as DeGraff.

Since its opening in 1914, DeGraff Memorial Hospital has continually grown and evolved with changes in community needs and health care practice. In 1998, DeGraff joined Kaleida Health, becoming part of the largest health system in Western New York. In recent years, a new management team moved the hospital financially from red ink into black, increasing revenues and patient volumes and improving quality and patient satisfaction scores. Today, it provides medical, surgical, medical rehabilitation and subacute services and critical care as well as a full range of ambulatory services to patients from both Niagara and Erie counties. Indeed, it is the only hospital in all of southern Niagara County and the only hospital located in the Twin Cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda.

While DeGraff’s patients are well served by its affiliation with a large health system, the hospital retains its distinct character as a community hospital. It provides wellness and preventive programs as well as acute medical care, affords local residents timely access to emergency treatment, is the largest private employer in the city in which it is located, and enjoys the enthusiastic support of numerous volunteers and the community-at-large.

When the hospital’s many benefits to its patients and our community are measured against a recommendation for conversion that lacks both convincing supporting evidence and majority approval by the Commission’s own regional members, the recommendation comes up clearly and painfully short. I very strongly urge you to take a fresh look at the report of the Commission on Health Care Facilities and – most particularly – to reject the Commission’s recommendation for DeGraff Memorial Hospital.

I look forward to working with you to improve health care for my constituents and all New Yorkers. I have already introduced a bill that would exempt DeGraff Memorial Hospital from the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations (A.4802), and I stand ready to assist with any further legislation you may pursue in this regard. With appreciation for your attention to this request, I am

Sincerely yours,
Robin Schimminger

cc: James R. Kaskie
Tamara B. Owen
Hon. Lawrence V. Soos