Officials discuss the roles of the LERHSNY board and Hamot

Editors note: This is the second of a three-part series on Lake Shore Hospital.

In the time of confusion after the possible closure of Lake Shore Hospital was announced, many area residents have questioned who is calling the shots.

In a recent interview, Lake Erie Regional Health System of New York officials wanted to clear up some of these questions about the board’s role and its relationship with another hospital.

LERHSNY is the parent company which was formed after the Berger Commission linked TLC Health Network and Brooks Memorial Hospital. LERHSNY has a board of directors and a chief executive officer position, which was held by Jonathan Lawrence until March 2013 when Gary Rhodes was appointed to the interim position.

Rhodes is also the CEO of Kane Hospital, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center affiliated hospital, and was “given on loan” to LERHSNY after Lawrence’s departure.

“We have Gary as a leased CEO, we let the other CEO go and we were in an interim situation looking for somebody and we went to UPMC and asked and they were able to provide Gary on loan,” LERHSNY Board Chairman Christopher Lanski said.

Brooks has been associated with UPMC Hamot since 2011.

“One thing we need to clear up is the Hamot relationship. I really think it is the same kind of relationship my hospital (Kane) has with Hamot. That is a long standing patient-doctor relationship. The patients needing heart care for many years have gone to Hamot. There are other parts of the county that go to different places but traditionally in (the Dunkirk) area they go to Hamot. This is really how that relationship started for heart care and other tertiary care needs,” Rhodes said.

Lanski said the board went through an extensive request for proposals process before selecting UPMC Hamot as a partner.

He said members of the community may be confused about what role the board plays.

“I think people are also unaware really of the role of the board. We get phone calls all the time, ‘Do you know what’s going on in the parking lot?'” he said.

Lanski said the board makes decisions based on information brought to it by management, but will frequently make decisions in executive session.

“(The board) sends Gary and other members of management off to gather information for us to make decisions with and we have our legal people who advise us and a lot of financial information – sometimes the information that comes to us is very easy to understand and make conclusions, sometimes we look to management for recommendations for what they see as necessary action steps, but then they are always followed up with a lot of board discussion and deliberation. We frequently for important decisions, ask management to leave the room and we go into executive session with just the board so we can get to the bottom of things,” he explained.

Recently, action was taken to create a separate TLC board. Lanski explained this was done in order to gauge what is in the best interest of each entity included in LERHSNY.

“We had responsibility over the entire community, that includes Brooks and Lake Shore, yet, obviously you would be conflicted if you were on a board trying to look out for TLC’s best interest and Brook’s best interest and the community’s best interest all at the same time. It’s an impossibility. I think the fact that you have debate and discussion about these things between the boards is a healthy thing. We are looking out for their interest; we are making sure we are taking care of the community in a larger sense. And it’s working; there is a natural tension. That’s good,” he said.

Lanski added that board members take their job very seriously.

“We have wonderful board members that are all business leaders. You know many of them, they are all respected and none of them are a pushover. They want to see the information; they want to see the diligence process. You would never bring something to the board unless you are very well prepared because they take their duties very seriously. We go back multiple times on budgets or whatever it may be to get to the real data and the information that they need to satisfy themselves that they’re making a good decision. There’s no such thing as a rubber stamp and there’s no such thing as an easy decision,” he said.

Rhodes said the board would not allow a CEO to call the shots.

“I know some CEOs that would love to think that they control their hospitals but that is just not how it is. You are accountable but it’s not a slam dunk and decisions are never made on what somebody thinks, their opinion or whatever,” he said.

Rhodes also disputed the insinuation that UPMC owns Brooks.

“It is absolutely not true. If someone thinks that, then go prove it because it is absolutely not true,” he said.

Officials previously told the OBSERVER that after exploring options, in October the board filed a closure plan with the state Department of Health as a contingency plan. Reasons for the closure included losses from operations totaling an estimated $9 million in 2013. State and federal officials have been working to save the hospital through a possible sale by securing $1 million in emergency funding from the state Health Department to keep the hospital open and $5 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for future capital improvements. A closure date has not been approved by the Health Department. The U.S. Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Court in Buffalo will be considering the use of the emergency funding at a hearing on Jan. 22.

Part I: “Officials: Hospital closure not plan A” ran Jan. 12. Comments on this article may be sent to ngugino@observertoday.com