When I exited Glens Falls Hospital on Thursday night, I was looking at it in a different light.
I stopped by my car and looked up at the floor where the Snuggery is located. I found the second-floor window where my son was born on another February day 23 years ago. I remember being so proud and happy looking out the window with the great view of the lights at West Mountain. It was a special moment.
I suspect I’m not alone when it comes to those life-changing moments — some good and some bad — where the hospital was the backdrop.
Glens Falls Hospital held an invitation-only forum on Thursday night with community leaders, elected officials and players in the medical community.
The invitation said they wanted to discuss their “strategic direction and future plans.”
Dianne Shugrue, the hospital’s president and chief executive officer, gave a PowerPoint presentation that alternated between a chilling financial review and inspirational information about the personal care the hospital provides.
I was privy to much of the same information a few weeks ago when Shugrue revealed the hospital had lost millions of dollars over the past two years, and that a precipitous drop in the number of people using the hospital, combined with built-in losses from the Medicare and Medicaid systems, was decimating the financial bottom line.
At one point, Shugrue stared ahead at the audience and said bluntly, “Hospitals do close.”
I tried to read the room, but there seemed to be little reaction.
It was an unthinkable thought.
Shugrue balanced the bleak financial realities with a message of reassurance about the great care the hospital provides, the improvements in the Emergency Department, a staff working diligently to make things better and the plans for a formal relationship with Albany Medical Center in 2020.
She seemed to be confirming the hospital wasn’t going anywhere.
There was a lot of information being shared with charts, numbers and bar graphs going in the wrong direction.
And then a reminder of the hospital’s century of service.
Looking around the room, there did not seem to be shock or great concern, and when it was over, I asked Shugrue what she had hoped to accomplish with the meeting and what was next.
She said she wanted to start the conversation with the community and acknowledged the hospital had to do a better job sharing information about the challenges it faces.
She also said she wasn’t sure what was next or if the same information — or some scaled down version of it — would be shared with the general public.
What I was looking for was that “what-can-we-all-do-to-help” moment from Shugrue to the city fathers.
As far as I’m concerned, that is the strong suit of this community. It rallies around causes and challenges for the good of everyone. I was hoping for a clearer vision of what comes next.
If it means fewer services — like the cutting of hours for some of the regional services in Washington County — then the community needs to be prepared.
If closing other departments needs to be considered, that needs to be shared.
I got the impression that Shugrue and her team at the hospital just don’t know.
“We can’t be all things to all people anymore,” Shugrue acknowledged.
“We can’t live in a bubble,” she said to me.
She called the economic changes in the current health care market “seismic” and “unsustainable” for the hospital financially.
But I did not see anyone in the room shaking their heads.
There was no alarm.
Finally, I told Shugrue that after seeing the financial losses and the continued decline in the number of procedures and patients at the hospital, I wondered if the situation was “dire.”
That’s what I got out of the meeting.
“Yes,” she said, “it is dire.”
I was startled to hear her confirm that description, so I asked her again because it is impossible to consider Glens Falls without the hospital.
“You would describe it as dire,” I asked again.
This time she nodded.