Response mixed to hospital report

Colleen M. Farrell and Julie Sherwood

Rochester’s three major hospitals need a total of 140 more beds in the next four years to ensure enough room for patients.

That’s according to the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency’s 2020 Commission, which for the past five months has studied what local hospitals should do to meet the health care needs of the community.

In addition, the Monroe County hospitals and those in Ontario County and other outlying counties should continue to build cooperation to “maintain a multi-county delivery system,” the commission advised.

The recommendations, made Monday by the 18-member committee, directly affect the University of Rochester Medical Center/Strong Memorial Hospital, Rochester General Hospital and Unity Hospital in Greece.

Health-care officials in Ontario County said they see the recommendations — if carried out — influencing health care here.

Linda Janczak, president and chief executive officer of Thompson Health, said she is pleased the commission focused on more cooperation between hospitals and not simply adding more beds. While the commission agrees more beds are needed, it says the request for 278 beds — which the three hospitals have petitioned the state Department of Health to approve — are 138 too many.

Dr. Carlos Ortiz, Thompson’s senior vice president of medical services, said the commission “is being very conservative” in its recommendations for more beds, a move he believes is a good one. The emphasis on renovations and private rooms — and the ability to add more beds as needed beyond the 140 — bodes well for infection control and quality of care, he said.

Even so, physicians in Ontario County expressed concerns. The trend of more patients going to the Monroe County hospitals — as well as troubles recruiting medical staff at the outlying hospitals — needs to be addressed, said Dr. Lewis Zulick, a surgeon and vice president of medical affairs at Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic. Zulick said as more beds are added in Monroe County, the outlying hospitals continue to struggle, with “more competition for personnel.”

Dr. Bradley Simmons is an ear, nose and throat specialist who practices in Newark and Canandaigua. Simmons, who is president of the medical staff at Newark-Wayne Hospital, part of ViaHealth, which includes Rochester General, said he hopes the call for more cooperation among all the hospitals includes discussions with both physicians and hospital administrators and executives. “We need to come together,” he said.

“We want the hospitals to work collaboratively, not competitively,” he added. “We want to see all the hospitals do well and give good care.”

John Galati, chief executive officer of Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic, said the recommendations “sound like a move in the right direction.” But he warned it will require educating the public about the services they can receive at the outlying hospitals — among other initiatives — to buck the trend of patients going to Monroe County.

The public still needs to be informed that they can receive many types of specialty care at the outlying hospitals, he said. For example, Clifton Springs offers professionals and expertise in treating diabetes, so patients don’t need to go to Strong.

Besides adding 140 extra beds, the commission recommends:

• modernizing all three facilities so 750 current beds, nearly half of the current total, will be in new or renovated rooms;

• encouraging Unity and Lakeside Hospital in Brockport to affiliate; and

• encouraging Monroe County hospitals to develop connections with hospitals in neighboring counties.

“This community is presently well-served by three well-respected hospital systems that are performing by national standards,” said Stephen Ashley, committee chair, adding that the area is “blessed” to have an academic medical center at the University of Rochester. “This was really about strengthening the systems, modernizing them for the long term and ensuring their viability (over the next 25 to 30 years).”

An aging population, hospitals that haven’t been renovated in decades, and the fact that URMC/Strong attracts patients from outside the region are driving the need for more beds, commission members said.

Specifically, the commission recommends that the Medical Center develop strategies to train and retain primary-care providers and specialty physicians in the region. Also, it says Monroe County and the Finger Lakes region should pursue more connections among the health systems in the south and eastern areas of the Finger Lakes. Any affiliation between Unity and Lakeside is up to hospital officials to work out, Ashley said.

“From the perspective of each institution, all three of these proposals make sense,” said Leonard E. Redon, commission vice chairman. “Viewed through a community lens, they would add more hospital capacity than we need at this point. The commission’s proposal allows each hospital to grow and modernize at a pace that makes sense for the institutions and the community with space to add capacity later if needed.”

The cost of the recommendations is $400 million to $500 million, and the additional beds wouldn’t be in place for four to six years. But in light of the current bed shortage, the commission recommends that 15 beds at Strong, 34 at Rochester General and a handful at Unity beds be put in sooner to alleviate Code Red issues, which means there are no beds available.

“At the end of that six-year period we will have a fully modernized system,” Ashley said.

The hospitals need to tap “every resource possible,” like the state, private foundations and individuals to get the work done, said Mark Voyvodich, chairman and CEO of Stroudwater Associates, the consulting firm that handled the study.

Commission member Bonnie DeVinney said how health care is delivered in the region is up to the community.

“This is a shared financial responsibility,” she said. “This is not saying the hospitals have to do it. It’s across the board.”

The finalized report will be given to the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency in the next 30 to 45 days. The agency will send that on to the state health department, which is expected to review each hospitals’ certificate of need Oct. 2.

Contact Colleen M. Farrell at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 265, or at and Julie Sherwood at 394-0770, Ext. 263, or