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Dec 14, 2019

Closing stings former Lakeshore leader

IRVING — During Bob Sutehall’s leadership of Lakeshore Hospital, business was booming.

Sutehall served on the Irving health-care facility’s board of directors from 1983 to 1994. During those years, he indicated, the facility was often packed to the max.

“Some years, we had a 108 percent occupancy rate at the hospital, which meant there were beds in the hall,” Sutehall writes in a commentary piece included in today’s edition. “We had people on a waiting list to get into the nursing home. All this with local board members. Charles Hughes, L. Leland Parker, James DeJohn, Dr. Ed Barnes and more than I can remember. All of these were local people and not people from outside our area who claim to be experts.”

Sutehall’s comments dictated to the OBSERVER and to this reporter came Wednesday, one day after the Brooks-TLC Hospital System board of directors announced the TLC-Lakeshore campus in Irving would be closing.

Now an Angola resident, Sutehall said the prosperity of the hospital that serves northern Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Erie counties changed when the state meddled with the reimbursement rate. “They then started to put the squeeze on all the small hospitals,” he wrote. “They wanted all the beds filled with no surplus.”

A former executive with the Silver Creek National Bank, Sutehall remembers an investment by Barnes that led to the facility. The physician had stopped in the bank with a vision.

“He said, ‘I just bought a lot down in Irving,’ ” Sutehall recalled. “ ‘I was going to put up a clinic for my own practice, but if you guys want to come along and go with me and support it, we’ll put up a small hospital and everybody thought that was a great idea.’ ”

Community residents and the village’s businesses bought in to the idea as well, which led to the building of the current campus.

During Sutehall’s tenure on the board, his leadership led to the facility having small surpluses each year. “We were breaking even,” he said, “showing a small profit.”

Over the last 15 years, however, that has not been the case in Irving or for Brooks Memorial Hospital. Both have been drowning in debt, even after TLC emerged from a 2013 bankruptcy in 2017.

If a new Brooks is built on West Main Street in Fredonia — at the former Cornell Cooperative Extension site — New York state will have invested more than $150 million in health-care subsidies and funding to this Brooks-TLC System. That breaks Sutehall’s heart.

“I just had to get this off my chest,” he said. “We worked so hard to make that hospital go.”

Come Jan. 1, the facility Sutehall helped grow in the 1980s and ’90s will be closed.

Source:  Dunkirk Observer

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