By ANDY GARDNER
MASSENA -- The room of about 100 people who met Thursday to discuss Massena Memorial Hospital's future all seemed to agree on a couple of basic points: the ultimate goal has to be keeping the hospital open and the lines of communication have to stay intact.
"I think communication is the key," Massena Town Councilman Albert Nicola told those attending. "The avenues of communication must be open and remain open."
The hospital is looking at switching from municipal ownership to a private, non-profit.
Town leaders are reluctant to vote before they feel satisfied they have the right amount of information about MMH's past, present and potential futures.
"We don't need posturing and positioning, we need to get down to the facts," Town Supervisor Joseph Gray said.
Nicola noted that the board has received conflicting information about the hospital's inner workings, including a financial study released earlier in the year by CSEA which says the hospital has significantly more cash on hand than they say.
"Some of the information we have is conflicting … we have to reconcile that," Nicola said.
Gray said before the Town Council feels ready to decide the hospital's fate, they may hire their own consultants to study its financials and make projections.
Councilman John Macaulay said no matter what happens, all parties concerned need to stick to a mission statement or else they may not make the right choice.
He pointed to a slide in a presentation on MMH financials that talked about "guiding principals" - number one was keeping the hospital open with the current level of services.
"I think this is critical. Is there anybody here who disagrees with what's on this?" Macaulay asked the room, pointing to the slide. There was no response from the crowd.
"If we use this list, we may make the right decision," he said.
Gray later read from letters to the editor of the Daily Courier-Observer that he said were spreading false facts and misinformation about MMH.
He first said whether the hospital is public or private, no one who seeks treatment will be turned down. It's illegal.
"Nobody is being denied treatment, that's a myth," Gray said.
Another letter said MMH employees will lose their entire state pension if the hospital transitions, which also isn't true.
"Nobody's going to lose their pensions - whatever they paid in, they're going to keep," Gray said, adding that they won't be able to work up to the next level of benefits, unless they get another state job.
One of the letters from which Gray read stated that the hospital will slash non-profitable services is it privatizes.
"Private hospitals close things if they're not profitable," Gray read from one of the letters, retorting "it's just not true."
Macaulay noted that a public hospital also has the legal right to do so.
"Public hospitals can eliminate non-profitable services," he said, adding that a private hospital may have avenues to at least make something that loses money break even that are not legally afforded to a municipal entity.
Nicola said he reached out to Lewis County General Hopsital in Lowville, the only other municipal hospital in the state and they told him the town board should take their time and tread lightly.
"They say don't be rushed into making a premature decision that affects so many people," Nicola said. "They feel communication is critical … it has to be a give-and-take, a dialogue."