Weekly Feature

2008-01-23 / Local News

Agreement reached; St. Joseph's Hospital to remain open

by KEATON T. DEPRIEST Cheektowaga Editor

Nearly 14 tumultuous months after St. Joseph Hospital was mandated to close under New York State law, the facility has officially won the fight to remain open.

The Catholic Health System, the company that owns the hospital, finalized an agreement with the state Department of Health on Jan. 17.

Following months of negotiations with the Health Department and state representatives, CHS was finally able to reach a common ground by creating a plan to redevelop the hospital campus.

The plan will keep 125 beds, core services and the hospital's state-of-the-art emergency department in operation on the Harlem Road campus on the sponsorship of CHS-owned Sisters of Charity Hospital.

The emergency department, which opened in 2005, cost $10 million to construct and cares for more than 27,000 patients each year.

"We believe this plan is an enormous victory for our community, including the large number of seniors in Cheektowaga and families throughout growing eastern suburbs," said Joseph McDonald, CHS president and chief executive officer.

He said keeping the facility open will ensure hospital and emergency room capacity for the community in cases of a catastrophic event, such as the October 2006 snowstorm.

"St. Joseph Hospital is a critical community resource and our action plan preserves patient care, saves money and jobs, avoids disruption of services and maintains the campus as an economic engine in the community," Mc- Donald said.

On Nov. 2, 2006, the Commission on Healthcare Facilities in the 21st Century listed 50 hospitals in the state to be restructured, nine of which were slated for closing, including St. Joseph Hospital.

The organization is also known as the Berger Commission, named after its chairman, Stephen Berger.

Since the Berger Commission's list became law on Jan. 1, 2007, CHS and hospital representatives have been pursuing several legal cases against the state to try to prohibit the facility's closing.

The current CHS litigation against the state will enter into settlement discussions as a result of the new agreement.

Under the new plan, which Mc- Donald said meets the recommendations of the Berger Commission, St. Joseph Hospital will surrender its operating certificate and its 208 licensed beds, including 127 beds currently in operation.

The facility would then reopen as the eastern campus of Sisters of Charity Hospital, with 125 unused beds from Sisters Hospital and an operating license on a date yet to be determined.

McDonald said the agreement also:

• Eliminates 200 beds, as recommended in the Berger Commission report, while creating an even distribution of beds across CHS, which will receive $8 million to fold its operations into the Sisters Hospital network.

• The current employees of both facilities will maintain their jobs, while St. Joseph Hospital may still plan to expand its senior services department to meet the needs of the rapidly growing senior population.

State Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, said the hospital is an asset to the surrounding community, and keeping the hospital open has been his main priority since being elected to the Assembly.

"This is a major victory for the residents of Cheektowaga, Lancaster and all of Western New York," he said.

U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, also called CHS' agreement with the state a solid plan for the future of health care.

"The hospital has operated in the black and has been financially viable for the past six fiscal years, while its admissions and emergency room visits have steadily grown," he said. "This is a solid plan, and I'm happy the state and CHS will be working together to finalize the details."

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