Before Pandemic, Brooks-TLC Was On Life Support

Christopher Kotowski, director of pharmacy at Brooks-TLC, prepares a COVID-19 dosing earlier this month. Submitted photo

Brooks-TLC Hospital System Inc. in 2019 reported revenues of $62,474,978. While nearly three-quarters of that income — almost $48 million — came from patient services between the two facilities in Dunkirk and Irving, another quarter came from an entity that never needed to be treated or was a customer: the New York state Health Department.

Despite $15,011,088 in aid from Albany to help with payroll and other expenses, the Brooks-TLC System noted losses topping $12.5 million for the fiscal year as reported to the Internal Revenue Service in the health-care facility’s Internal Revenue Service 990 filings.

“They had been consistently … subsidizing two institutions,” Mary E. LaRowe, president and chief executive officer of Brooks-TLC, said of the state subsidies to the institutions from 2017 to 2019 that topped $45 million. “They recognize that small rural hospitals have a challenge of turning things around quickly. … It’s never been intended to be long standing.”

For almost all of 2020 and early 2021, Brooks-TLC has been on the front lines fighting the global health crisis that is COVID-19. The urgency of the pandemic made many forget about the closing on Feb. 2 of a beloved Lakeshore Hospital campus.

Community members, especially in Hanover and Silver Creek, remain in mourning over the shuttering of the campus, but administrators noted the evolving health care industry could no longer support two institutions. Ken Morris, vice president of operations for Brooks-TLC, noted the organization is already seeing significant savings from the closure.

“This was all done to preserve health care in the community,” Morris said, estimating future savings without the site of $14 million. “New York state is not the easiest place to operate.”

According to the 2019 filings, Brooks-TLC had expenses of $75,037,664 with salaries and benefits making up $32.4 million or 43%. The highest paid employees were Morris at $249,034; Jodi Witherell, chief nursing officer, $212,726; Sophia Clayton-Ariana, director of surgical services, $165,336; and Robert Link, physician assistant, $155,010. LaRowe is compensated through Kaleida and her salary was not listed. In addition, the institution listed only eight board members.

Both LaRowe and Morris did not touch on the finances for 2020, but it is likely it will not be a pretty picture. Kaleida Health, the largest healthcare provider in Western New York, partners with Brooks on a number of initiatives. It announced recently it saw losses of more than $108 million last year, mainly due to the virus.

“The good news is we’re continuing operations,” LaRowe said of the current situation at Brooks-TLC. “Gradually the numbers will improve.”

Those revenues, she noted, rely heavily on outpatient procedures that were shut down due to the virus. Currently, those surgeries have picked up.

One other way the hospital is working to control expenses is through more local hirings by investing in its workforce. During some of the worst parts of the crisis, Brooks had to pay hefty prices for traveling nurses to fill open positions.

Morris highlighted an enhanced wage structure that was implemented for current staff members and those who have been recently hired. “We’ve actually … seen some success as of (this month),” he said. “We’ve had 16 or 17 new nurses … who have actually joined. … Filling those positions make a huge difference.”

As for the new, $70 million state-of-the-art Fredonia facility, which has been in the works since March 2016, there remains no immediate timeline. LaRowe did confirm they have received extensions from the village Planning Board and Cornell Cooperative Extension, which owns the property that is opposite the Fredonia Central Schools.

“We are hoping that once we see some settlement on COVID and the vaccine, we’ll be back with the state continue the dialogue,” LaRowe said, noting construction is unlikely to start this year.


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