Town voters will get to decide on sale of Massena Memorial Hospital to St. Lawrence Health System
Wednesday, August 21, 2019 - 8:02 pm

BY ANDY GARDNER

North Country This Week

MASSENA -- Voters in the Town of Massena will be able to vote on the town’s sale of Massena Memorial Hospital to St. Lawrence Health System.

On Monday at 5 p.m., the Town Council will vote on the real estate transfer in a special meeting. The town earlier this year entered into an agreement for SLHS to manage the financially struggling MMH, and agreed to eventually sell it. If the deal goes through, SLHS will manage MMH through a non-profit corporation, similar to how they run Canton-Potsdam and Gouverneur hospitals.

Town attorney Eric Gustafson said, pending Town Council approval next week, the sale will be on the ballot on Election Day, Nov. 5. He said the reason for the Monday special meeting was because state law has a specific time frame for getting ballot propositions in the General Election. Had the town board voted at their Wednesday, Aug. 21 meeting, the matter would have had to go to a special election.

“There’s a limited window under the statute for when it can be on the annual election day, versus when you have to hold a special election. It didn’t make sense with the election day being so close to incur an extra expense,” Gustafson said.

Town Supervisor Steve O’Shaughnessy said he supports the proposition going to the voters.

“It had to be not necessarily put out there to see the whole process and see what happens, but now we have it. This is the perfect opportunity for the taxpayers of the Town of Massena to learn about it, see if it’s what they want, and vote about it on Election Day. I think it’s a great idea,” the supervisor said.

Councilor Tom Miller asked Gustafson if all of the attorneys involved in the asset transfer are on the same page with regard to the MMH transfer going to voters as a November ballot proposal.

“That’s what the recommendation would be,” Gustafson said. “This will give the voters of the Town of Massena an opportunity to make a choice.”

Both the Town Council and MMH Board of Managers in July agreed to start the process of selling Massena Memorial Hospital to St. Lawrence Health System.

The sale is anticipated to bring $20 million from the state and $8 million from SLHS to take care of trailing MMH liabilities and cover the cost of privatization.

The deal is somewhat complicated. The Dormitory Authority of the State of New York will lend $2.8 million to SLHS, which they in turn will lend to MMH. MMH Board of Managers Chair Loretta Perez in late July said this arrangement is because New York State cannot legally loan money to a public body such as MMH. Massena Memorial will repay St. Lawrence Health System out of the $20 million grant MMH will receive from the state. Receiving the $20 million is contingent upon SLHS creating an entirely new non-profit entity to run MMH, similar to how SLHS operates Canton-Potsdam and Gouverneur hospitals.

Under the deal, St. Lawrence Health System will assume the long-term debts and liabilities currently held by MMH. That will be paid off with the remainder of the $20 million state grant, Jason Centolella, an attorney representing the town during the negotiations, said in late July.

SLHS has also agreed to put as much as $8 million of their own cash into MMH operations.

“They’re making a commitment to put $8 million into the operations of the hospital. How that $8 million is going to be spent, we don’t know at this point,” Centolella said at the time.