By Jim Krencik
Medina Journal-Register — ALBION — Connie and Ron Ebbs said they’ve taken the level of care at Lakeside Hospital for granted in recent years, but it was there when her family needed it.
In the years after their hometown hospital, the old Arnold Gregory Memorial, closed the Ebbs and many other families in eastern and central Orleans County have benefited from the care at the Brockport facility.
For the Ebbs, the dominant memory is the night their son had appendicitis. On their doctor’s advisement, they raced to Lakeside, where surgeons were on hand to remove the nearly-burst organ.
“We’re grateful it was there,” Ron said. “It’s a very good place.”
“It was 7:30 at night, to have to drive to the city — it’s scary to think about,” Connie added.
The Ebbs and about 40 other Orleans County residents gathered at the Hoag Library Tuesday to speak with Lakeside officials about a transformation of service that is swiftly approaching at their beloved but under-utilized hospital.
Lakeside announced major changes in February, initially that the emergency room and in-patient services would be gone in months. Discussions with state officials required for a such a move led to a new course — maintaining emergency services and a greatly reduced in-patient service under a new model by May 1.
“We had to show a model to respond to the community’s demands and have a sustainable financial model,” Lakeside Chief Executive Office Jim Cummings told the audience. “We saw we could make emergency model work with five beds for overnight observations.”
Lakeide Senior Director of Finance Leon Gossin told the crowd that Lakeside is confident that the state will get approve the plan in time to implement their new vision.
“We’ve been assured by the Depart of Health that a decision will come well before our deadline,” said Gossin, who noted that the state was entity that proposed the small in-patient/ER model used by a handful of other facilities in western New York.
Other services, like ambulatory surgery, pharmacy, lab draws and the hospital’s skilled nursing facility will survive, Cummings said, because of the decisions being made now. The facility has seen the costs to provide in-patient care for a dwindling number of people increase significantly in recent years.
“Healthcare is moving towards an out-patient delivery model,” Cummings said.
He noted the out-patient and nursing home’s strength as something that would be imperiled by continuing to prop-up a declining in-patient service.
“Are we going to let (in-patient services) ... take this system down with it? ,” Cumming said of the decision Lakeside faced. “We’re saving the elements that we can.”
Lakeside has held three forums to explain the reasons for and results of the changes, with Albion’s drawing the second-largest crowd, behind only a packed house in Brockport.
The questioned voiced were ones of concerns, not anger, about what the refocused facility would provide for patients and emergency medical services. It was the kind of gathering where the mention of specific physicians and specialists drew smiles and claps from patients with pleasant memories of care given.
Gary Crawford of Kendall, a co-chair of the Orleans County EMS Council, said that organization had tabled a question of whether to re-start an agreement with MercyFlight to transport all stroke patients to Buffalo and Rochester at its most recent meeting.
Cummings said the facility would remain a stroke center and a place where EMS providers can bring patients to receive care or stabilization for transport to larger facilities.
But larger issues remain in Orleans County and Albion, split between medical oases clustered an hour away in Buffalo and Rochester. Phil Monacelli of Medina asked whether the state had weighed in the relative dearth of in-patient beds between Lockport and Greece that would result from the move.
“People have to travel far for in-patient care, it’s a big area,” Monacelli said. “A big void.”
Cummings said Lakeside will continue to partner with the University of Rochester for specialists. Working with other hospitals in Medina and Batavia is also a goal, but not one seen as a saving grace.
“I want to keep the dialogue open, but we’re three struggling hospitals — we need someone bigger,” Cummings said.Contact reporter Jim Krencikat 798-1400, ext. 6327.