Bradford Regional Medical Center and Olean (N.Y.) General Hospital are restructuring, which will include the relocation of all acute care and surgical services to Olean and the reduction of BRMC’s inpatient capacity to 10 medical beds — down from 107.
Calling the changes a “strategic initiative to ensure sustainable, long-term healthcare for its expansive, two-state service community,” Upper Allegheny Health System said the plan “reflects current realities facing the healthcare sector.”
The closure of the acute care and surgical services in Bradford is planned for April 1, but the date is subject to change depending on the COVID-19 pandemic, UAHS officials said.
“UAHS will not implement the plan so long as the pandemic significantly impacts hospitals, staff and resources,” the statement continued.
Bradford will retain its emergency room, and “develop centers of excellence in outpatient services, behavioral health and long-term care/rehab (Pavilion services) — services which exist today,” officials said. “Recently both sleep and occupational health services consolidated from the UAHS Olean General campus to the Bradford Regional campus.”
That just isn’t enough, said Bradford Mayor James McDonald.
“It doesn’t come anywhere close to what we will be losing,” the mayor said in a statement to The Era.
Some of the immediate concerns in the community are about jobs and transportation issues with accessing services in Olean.
Dennis McCarthy, spokesperson for UAHS, said regarding jobs, “At this point we do not have a precise position impact for the plan. While we expect a net position reduction, the number of actual jobs reduced will be lowered through attrition, and vacancies at OGH pre and post consolidation.”
He continued, “We have at least three months before April 1 and that date may move if COVID continues to be a problem. We will know more as the consolidation date approaches.”
Part of the implementation plan is to address transportation, McCarthy said. “We know it is a key issue, especially in rural communities.
“We are talking with potential partners in developing a transportation system service for both hospitals and both cities,” he said, referring to Bradford and Olean.
While Bradford’s mayor acknowledged the difficulty in trying to figure out how to run “a fiscally sound organization while maintaining a level of service and care at BRMC,” McDonald said the actions of UAHS and its affiliate, Kelaida Health, will have a devastating impact on McKean County.
“The economic fallout from this move … is hard to be fully realized at the moment, but it goes without saying that an unacceptable number of jobs at BRMC will probably be affected, if not completely lost,” the mayor said. “Also, you have to imagine what losing capabilities at a hospital does to the prospect of people potentially wanting to move to this area.”
The mayor said the issue didn’t start in 2020, and was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In 2019, they stopped delivering babies at BRMC and opted to use OGH as their preferred facility,” McDonald said. “Bits and pieces of BRMC have been chipped away and sent over the border into Olean for years.
“In the past, the City of Bradford secured millions of dollars in grant money to assist in various improvements and upgrades at BRMC that were intended to help pave the way forward for a hospital that would continue to be in our community for generations to come,” he continued.
“I’m extremely disappointed that the optimism that the city held for BRMC’s future was met with the plans that were just made public by the hospital’s administration.”
McKean County Commissioner Tom Kreiner has been involved with state Rep. Marty Causer, R-Turtlepoint, and state Sen. Cris Dush, R-Brookville, in trying to find ways to save BRMC services.
Causer said in 2009, when BRMC and OGH integrated, “we were given assurances that we were enhancing services. From my perspective, I’ve seen a continual reduction in services since that time.”
McCarthy addressed this as well, saying this move is to preserve health care in both Bradford and Olean.
“We feel the plan fulfills the mission to keep healthcare local and offer quality health care services in the long-term to a region where two hospitals are only 23 miles apart in a declining population market with duplicate health care services and too many beds,” he said. “The board of directors and the administration are committed to preserving quality health care locally.”
In December, Causer sent a letter to the Bradford-based members of UAHS’s board expressing his dismay at what was then just a proposal.
“There seems to be a pattern associated with this continual decline in services,” the letter stated. “Quite frankly, since the formation of Upper Allegheny Health System, there has been a steady decline of health care services at BRMC by shifting services to Olean General Hospital.”
The state rep indicated he was “deeply concerned” that hospital officials were shutting down taxpayer-funded portions of the hospital.
“Our Commonwealth has provided significant support to BRMC over the years, including direct financial support with taxpayer dollars to construct the hospital addition that includes the surgical suites that you plan to shut down,” the letter stated.
He urged the board to reconsider.
Kreiner said the commissioners and Causer have a meeting set for Friday with UAHS officials.
“I’m kind of at a loss for words,” Kreiner said. “What have they done to the community? You can’t have a baby here. You can’t have surgery here. How do we bring in new businesses, new facilities?”
Equally frustrating, Kreiner said, was that this decision was “done under the cover of darkness.”
McDonald was frustrated as well. He said, “I do not doubt for a second that this move by hospital administrators, however carefully thought out from a business standpoint, will leave a permanent black eye on the face of Bradford.”
The mayor said he and city council members are working on setting up a meeting with hospital officials “so that they can explain their plans more fully and to hear us present the concerns that Bradford residents, BRMC employees and city council all share in regards to the recent news from BRMC.”
According to hospital officials, BRMC will “continue to grow its expansive network of primary care and specialty providers throughout the region. Its behavioral health unit has served the community for 40 years and is the only unit to offer dual diagnosis in the region.”
Describing the services available at Olean General, officials said OGH offers “Interventional cardiac catheterization laboratory — which operates jointly with Kaleida Health’s Gates Vascular Institute, its neurology program and designation as a stroke center, its ICU intensivist program, radiation oncology, vascular services, orthopedic surgery, wound care including hyperbaric therapy and dialysis services,” which, officials said, puts UAHS into the company of major urban medical centers.
Hospital officials indicated that an “improvement task force” was commissioned to consider the future of UAHS. It was made up of hospital board members, senior administrators, Kaleida Health leadership and a healthcare consulting group.
Jeff Belt, CEO of SolEpoxy in Olean and chair of the UAHS board, talked about the constantly changing field of health care.
“Many health care systems across the U.S. have shifted toward the centers of excellence model,” Belt said. “This model is needed in order to aggregate the teams of specialists, plus sophisticated technology and facilities that are needed to deliver state-of-the-art medical care.”
Jeff Zewe, UAHS president and CEO, said, “There are some substantial changes to be made, and we do not take the resulting impacts lightly, but this new care model is truly designed to improve overall effectiveness and ensure the delivery of services to our neighbors and the region for decades to come.”
He continued, “Success has been particularly challenging for rural hospitals nationwide over the last several years due to declining populations and a variety of other factors including inadequate reimbursement, recruitment challenges, competition, unaffordable duplication of services and hospitals which have too many beds for the populations they serve.”
Zewe said the population in the region continues to decline, and the number of beds had to be reduced.
Belt said, “We understand that this decision will cause concerns. Change is difficult, even when it is change for the good. We will do all we can to smooth the bumps on our path forward so that our Hospital System employees, and the population we serve can realize the benefits of expanded access to sophisticated treatments right here in our Twin Tiers region.”