By WILLIAM A. STANLEY
Published December 29. 2013 4:00AM
New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio has an open invitation from Lawrence + Memorial Hospital to visit with us, lest he continue to be confused about certain actions we've taken in the past year to improve care and to prepare our organization for what knowledgeable observers predict will be an increasingly difficult future for hospitals ("Finizio blasts L+M for not behaving like a nonprofit" - The Day, Dec. 22).
L+M is one of the city's largest employers and economic drivers, and provides millions of dollars in community benefits to New London and the rest of our community. Given that, we are disappointed Mayor Finizio continues to loudly and publicly repeat false or misleading information fed to him by others about everything from the hospital's financial condition to the moving of certain non-acute-care services off our main campus.
Given his lack of experience in the complex field of health care, a brief visit to the hospital or even a phone call would help the mayor better understand these and other issues before he speaks publicly about them.
Let's start with his erroneous claim that L+M is "skewing data" to make our financial outlook appear dire. Like other hospitals in Connecticut and throughout the country, L+M's financial condition dramatically changed this past year due to unexpected, massive cuts in government reimbursement and a sharp decrease in patient volume. He need not take our word for it, though. He could consult the bond rating agencies - Moody's, Fitch, and Standard & Poor's - that report a negative outlook for non-profit hospitals. Indeed, S&P recently downgraded L+M's rating from A+ to A and downgraded its outlook to "negative."
Still, the mayor observed, "This is an institution that just bought another hospital and opened a Cancer Center."
Yes, we did, and we are proud of both milestones. Having apparently accepted the oft-repeated but false contention that L+M paid $69 million to acquire Westerly Hospital this summer, the mayor would do well to know we really spent less than $10 million in cash on the deal. The Westerly acquisition allowed us to transfer $2.5 million in overhead expenses from L+M to Westerly last fiscal year and $5 million in 2014. Had he asked, he would have been welcome to consult our independent auditors, who called the acquisition a "bargain sale."
Previously losing millions each year for several years, Westerly Hospital finished in the black for the fourth months at the end of its 2013 fiscal cycle after the L+M acquisition - a dramatic financial reversal by any standard, and one that strengthens L+M's strategic positioning in a very rapidly changing, competitive field.
As for the new Cancer Center in Waterford, the mayor should know it is being largely financed by a $30 million capital fundraising campaign that has generated nearly two-thirds of its goal in cash and pledges. We invite him to make his own contribution and join thousands of donors who have already supported this robust outpouring of community support for locally available, comprehensive, world-class cancer care.
The mayor has decried the relocation of services such as outpatient mental health services off the L+M main campus. Had he ever asked us, we would have explained this was a move conceived and recommended by our psychiatrists in the interest of patients, and that the combining of mental health and primary care services in the same community-based office settings not only reduces the stigma for those seeking mental health care, it is considered a national best practice.
Unfortunately, these are but a few examples of the mayor's apparent misunderstanding of or disinterest in the facts. Either could be remedied with a simple educational discussion with any or all of those who oversee operations at L+M.
We are proud of our hospital and health care system. We want the mayor to be, too. However, first, he has to ask questions and assemble facts, rather than simply parrot others' rhetoric. We invite him to call us or, better yet, stop by to learn. We will all be better for it.
William A. Stanley is Lawrence + Memorial's Vice President for Development + Community Relations.