Massena Memorial officials say affiliation with CHMC/Crouse Hospital would expand local services
Thursday, January 10, 2019 - 11:41 am

By ANDY GARDNER
North Country Now

MASSENA -- Massena Memorial Hospital officials say the affiliation they want with Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center/North Star Alliance and Crouse Hospital would help grow and add services in Massena, rather than siphon patients to Ogdensburg or Syracuse.

Massena Memorial Hospital CEO Charles Gijanto, who is also CEO of CHMC in Ogdensburg, and the MMH board Executive Committee spoke with North Country This Week on Jan. 9 and discussed why the MMH board wants to go with that affiliation, among other topics. The committee includes MMH board chair Sue Bellor, whose position is in jeopardy, and MMH trustee Tina Buckley.

“From the Claxton and Crouse side, our approach is one of a collaborative partnership-oriented model that is geared toward the viability of a full-service hospital in Massena with the preservation of jobs,” Gijanto said. “If patients were staying local and we had the services they need, [Massena Memorial] is extremely viable.”

His comments come amid tensions between the MMH board and Massena Town Council that hospital officials say is over who MMH should choose as an affiliate.

On Jan. 4, Town Supervisor Steve O'Shaughnessy sent a letter to Bellor firing her for what he said was the hospital's poor financial performance.

However, Bellor said she believes the real reason is because the board supports the affiliation with Crouse/CHMC/North Star and O'Shaughnessy wants to affiliate with St. Lawrence Health System, which oversees Canton-Potsdam and Gouverneur Hospitals.

O'Shaughnessy in December also decided to not re-appoint MMH board Chair Scott Wilson when his term expired at the end of 2018. Both Wilson and O'Shaughnessy said in December that the decision was because of a disagreement over where MMH is headed.

The supervisor did not immediately return requests for comment.

Bellor said that the MMH board went through a lengthy and deliberate process to reach their decision of a preferred affiliate.

“We did our due diligence over several presentations,” she said.

Gijanto said Massena would “absolutely not” be sending patients to Ogdensburg or Syracuse under the proposed affiliation. “If we sought to steal patients ... that's at the expense of Massena. We are not looking to do that. We are looking to bolster the service offerings,” he said.

“That was key” to the MMH board's decision,” Bellor said.

The CHMC affiliation with Massena could include sharing specialists between the two hospitals that neither on their own could support, but together could justify a full-time presence in the northern part of St. Lawrence County, according to Gijanto.

“We're talking about doing joint recruitments with urology, podiatry,” he said, adding that Massena or Ogdensburg may not have need for a full-time podiatrist, “but services stay local.”

“I believe the opportunities of partnering and collaborating ... are unlimited,” he said.

He added that the goal of the affiliations going on with Ogdensburg and North Star is to “create a small system where we can share technical and system resources ... working with Crouse, the benefit of their expertise and clinical capabilities to help grow and recover some of the market share that has been lost in this organization over the last several years.”

Bellor and Buckley said St. Lawrence Health System was never a preferred affiliate candidate but was pushed by the town supervisor.

“We invited CPH to come down and do a presentation because we thought it was important to hear from everybody,” according to Bellor.

“When they came and presented to this board, they were very non-committal what they would do for this hospital,” Gijanto.

Bellor said the MMH board had a process where they would score potential affiliates based on criteria they wanted for affiliation, such as commitment to keeping MMH a full-service hospital, cultural fit, continued local input and influence by the local hospital board, commitment to growth of providers and services and several other areas. That scoring led them to CHMC/North Star/Crouse, Bellor said.

Her firing came two days after she spoke during public comment at a Town Council meeting and criticized the supervisor over his appointment of Dr. Michael Maresca to the MMH board. He is a St. Lawrence Radiology doctor who is chair of Canton-Potsdam Hospital’s Radiology Department.

She also criticized O’Shaughnessy for what she said was his preference of St. Lawrence Health System as MMH’s future affiliate. The MMH board last month voted to recommend affiliation with Claxton-Hepburn/North Star and Crouse Hospital. MMH’s CEO, Charles Gijanto, is also CEO of CHMC.

O’Shaughnessy would not confirm or deny that he prefers SLHS for an MMH affiliate, although he has in the past said he does not agree with the board’s affiliation recommendation. Bellor says his preference for an MMH affiliate is St. Lawrence Health System.

In mid-2018, the supervisor acknowledged that they have spoken to SLHS about affiliation, and SLHS CEO David Acker was seen leaving an unannounced executive session of the MMH board in September. Officials at the time characterized the meeting as an “education session on affiliation.”

“I have a preference but I really don’t want to name it at this time,” the supervisor said. “I believe the town board and the hospital board should work together to come up with the consensus to get the right partner to affiliate, not having it out in the public and in the newspaper going back and forth. They should be embarrassed.”

Bellor said she believes Maresca being on the MMH board represents a conflict of interest because a contract to provide imaging services at MMH “represents millions of dollars annually” to St. Lawrence Radiology.

She said that, just before her firing, she asked O’Shaughnessy via email to gather any correspondences, draft plans or agreements with St. Lawrence Health System and turn them over so the MMH board can review them. She said he replied with an email asking her to “stop down to discuss contracts,” but it’s not clear what he meant.