After years of discussion and planning, Auburn Community Hospital will begin sharing programs and services with St. Joseph's Health in Syracuse and the University of Rochester Medical Center.
During a press conference at ACH Wednesday morning, President and CEO Scott Berlucchi said the board of trustees at ACH approved a strategic partnership with the larger regional hospitals, which will allow health professionals to share resources while providing Auburn-area residents easier access to more specialized care.
"This is a very, very big day for ACH," Berlucchi said. "We have been working on this affiliation and partnership for really quite some time and this is a fantastic opportunity to bring care locally."
The collaboration with St. Joseph's and URMC has been in the works since September 2015. Prior to that, ACH had hoped to form a partnership with Rochester General Health System in 2011; however, that affiliation ultimately fell through in 2012.
On Wednesday, Berlucchi and other hospital officials were careful to note that this partnership is not a buyout or bailout for ACH, which will continue to operate as an independent, separately licensed community hospital while maintaining its existing board governance structure. St. Joseph's President and CEO Leslie Paul Luke said the collaboration comes with no change in ownership or management and no exchange of money for any purpose.
"This is going to be the largest and strongest health care collaboration in central New York," he said. "With the combination of all of our medical staffs and talent ... we will be able to have more business essentially among all of us and be able to direct the care for quality outcomes."
Through the partnership, St. Joseph's Health and URMC will support ACH's primary care network while assisting the hospital with physician recruitment, quality improvement initiatives and patient safety. The relationship will also establish new services at ACH, including neurology, cancer care, orthopedics and cardiology.
"As a small community hospital, we can provide good community medicine, but there's a lot of services that we don't provide," Berlucchi said. "By having this collaboration, it's one system where a patient can start here and go to St. Joseph's or URMC to get better access and coordination of care."
Finally, Luke said the hospitals will switch to a value-based purchasing system. Rather than billing an insurance company for service, this approach allows hospitals to take a risk on a certain population. Those hospitals are then rewarded or penalized depending on whether they maintained, reduced or enhanced their costs and quality of care.
"By working together, we are going to be able to find the lowest-cost, highest-quality service and location for our population and thereby bring a tremendous amount of value to insurance companies and Medicare," Luke said.
Berlucchi said he does not anticipate any job loss as a result of the partnership; rather, he expects to stabilize and create jobs with the addition of services at the hospital.
Dr. John Riccio, the chief medical officer and former president of medical staff at ACH, said Auburn employees were excited about the partnership.
"This actually was pushed very strongly by the medical staff," Riccio said. "Many of the medical staff were trained at the University of Rochester and many staff are previous attending physicians at St. Joseph's Health ... so there was already a collaborative effect being felt between the staff."
Steven Goldstein, the vice president of URMC and president and CEO of Strong Memorial Hospital, added, "This is all about the future success of Auburn hospital. We really congratulate (ACH) for having the foresight to enter into these kind of relationships. They're not easy, but they really have the opportunity to provide a great benefit to the community."
Bob Parker remembers sitting in the reclining seats of the Southern Cayuga Planetarium as a young student, gazing at up-close images of the Big Dipper and various constellations he wishes he would have paid more attention to at the time.
Parker, founder and president of J&B Installations in Skaneateles Falls, said the images are still seared in his memory, decades later. Now having spent more time as an outsdoorsman and seeing the tapestry of celestial bodies from skies in areas like Montana, Parker appreciates the opportunity he had to see those stars as a child.
"You kind of appreciate it more once you get to see the stars up that close," Parker said.
The Southern Cayuga Central School District Board of Education approved a resolution Monday night to accept a donation of materials and labor — at an approximate value of $85,800 — from J&B to replace the planetarium roof. The planetarium is next to the school building in Poplar Ridge.
The company has assisted with other projects, but this endeavor involves more money. Parker wants students from school districts as far away as Rochester and Utica, to learn from what the planetarium would have to offer. Many of his employees, hailing from Moravia, Union Springs and Seneca Falls, also went to the planetarium as children.
"I'm picturing hopefully more schools will take an interest in the planetarium and hopefully they get more donations every year so kids can experience it," Parker said.
The initial donation was given to the nonprofit Friends of the of the Southern Cayuga Planetarium, and the group then gave the donation to the school district, Superintendent Patrick Jensen said. The district and planetarium group's mutual goal is to open the facility for regular student and community use once again. It closed in 2014, but the district still maintains the building. Parker said J&B is eyeing spring 2018 to begin work.
Michael Dempsey, the planetarium group's president, wants the building's "uniqueness" to bring in crowds as it did in the past.
"Our goal is to make the planetarium a destination location," Dempsey said.
The group has been talking to other contractors about contributions such as energy upgrades, a new dome generator, mortar fixes in between the building's bricks and a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.
Jensen said there had been leaks in the ceiling above the planetarium's classroom and the rest of the roof was getting older. The planetarium group's grant consultant, Sandra Souder, had worked with J&B before, and she asked the company to look at the roof.
The company inspected it and repaired the roof in October. Eventually conversations turned to J&B replacing the roof.
J&B's donations are a good "first step," Jensen said, to encourage other companies to volunteer. He said in April that the building is detached from the school district and the planetarium doesn't qualify for state aid because it's not being used by students, which made it difficult to get help.
The fact that J&B is footing the bill for the roof makes this undertaking different from a typical capital project, Jensen said. It doesn't require taxpayer approval, and with other potential contributions from different organizations, funding will come piece by piece.
Jensen praised the planetarium group's efforts to make the donation happen. Dempsey said Jensen was cooperative. Dempsey added Souder's work since she started in December 2016 was a shot in the arm for the restoration efforts.
Jensen said the district plans to use the planetarium to house its robotics and coding classes so students can operate and store their machines there. The district has been working with interim Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES Superintendent Chris Todd to get the planetarium classified as a STEM classroom.
The district brought in Barton & Loguidice from Liverpool to check the planetarium for asbestos three weeks ago and Jensen received word last week the building was clean.
Dempsey said the planetarium group believes there is a need for science education, despite districts like Southern Cayuga having lost state funding.
"The need, when government can't support good education, is for people to stand up and say 'something has to be done. My self and the board members were a group who had to learn a lot and stand up and say 'This has to be done,'" Dempsey said.
He said fundraisers with lecturers and the 300-plus attendance for the planetarium's eclipse viewing party in August indicate community members are interested in science.
"All of those things speak to the fact that there's a lot of people in the community who are very, very concerned about education and very concerned about maintaining the quality of education," Dempsey said.
The Central New York Regional Economic Development Council is a big winner yet again in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's annual competition for state funding.
The council, which represents Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga and Oswego counties, received one of five top performer awards and $86.4 million to support 112 economic development projects. It is the highest total given to any of the state's 10 regional councils.
More than $755 million was awarded to the regional councils. The other top performer award winners were the Mohawk Valley, Capital Region, Mid-Hudson region and Long Island.
The Finger Lakes region, which includes Seneca County, received $63.9 million.
This was the seventh regional council awards ceremony since Cuomo became governor in 2011. He touted his economic development policies and argued that despite criticism of these programs, they are working.
He also sought to dismiss cynics who say the state isn't good for businesses. He highlighted what he believes are key achievements during his tenure: limits on government spending, lower taxes and aggressive economic development initiatives.
"You add up those three elements, that's a business-friendly economy and that is now what the state of New York offers," he said.
While most regions have had mixed success in the regional council program, central New York has been a big winner. Prior to Wednesday's ceremony, the region won $906.8 million in state support in the first six years of the competition. The total includes $500 million from the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, a separate contest held in 2015 that awarded $1.5 billion to central New York and two other regions.
Central New York's success in the seventh round of the regional economic development council awards will benefit Cayuga County. State funding will support 26 projects within the county.
The list is highlighted by $1.98 million for Currier Plastics, an Auburn-based plastics manufacturer, to expand its operations, $1.2 million for the Auburn Schine Theater's restoration and $1.18 million for Martens Companies, a Port Byron farm, to build a food processing and distribution center.
Prison City Pub & Brewery in Auburn received $900,000 for its expansion project. DuMond Farms was awarded $879,000 to construct a soybean processing plant in the town of Fleming. The state gave $380,000 in grants and tax credits to Copper John Corporation, an Auburn archery accessories manufacturer, to buy new equipment and bring jobs back to the U.S.
Rounding out the priority projects is a $283,000 grant for the Cayuga County Industrial Development Agency's plan to expand the sewer system in the Aurelius Industrial Park. One of the park's main tenants is Cayuga Milk Ingredients.
SENNETT — The Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District's board of directors has agreed to keep the Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Program, for now. The future administration of the program became muddied this week, as the parties involved in a proposed transfer work out an agreement.
The Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council — a nonprofit organization created by the city of Auburn, town of Owasco and Cayuga County — intended to take on the inspection program by Jan. 1, but the transfer was delayed after the city found inconsistencies with the organization's bylaws.
Ed Wagner, chair of the management council and town supervisor of Owasco, appeared before the soil and water district's board meeting Wednesday morning to request that soil and water retain the program "until a date to be determined."
"I can foresee this being January 2019," Wagner said. "The reality is, if we go that far, it probably would be a cleaner transition if we waited until the following January, if we go forward at all."
Wagner said there are multiple options for the future of the inspection program now being discussed, including keeping it under the district, moving it under the purview of the management council, and having the city take responsibility of the program.
The district has overseen the program for the last seven years in lieu of the management council, through a four-party agreement with Auburn, Owasco and Cayuga County. The district's board said it would let the contract automatically renew at its meeting Wednesday, but not without some members expressing frustration at the transfer process thus far.
Jim Young, vice chairman of the district's board, said he had expected detailed information on how a transfer was going to take place, but was frustrated to learn the management council did not even have a contract to discuss. Young said he wasn't sure why the change in oversight was happening in the first place.
The district's executive director Doug Kierst said that under the four-party agreement, the district can withdraw from the contract provided it gives Auburn, Owasco and Cayuga County 60 days written notice. If any of the three municipalities wish to leave the agreement, they are required to give six months notice, Kierst said.
A working group meeting has been scheduled for January, where the four parties will discuss how to move forward. Kierst said he's glad the district has been invited to that session.
"One of our concerns here was it's taking long to get to this point, and we were kind of not sure what was going on," he said. "At least if we're participating in the process all along, the good news is we'll have a feel for when this may happen and be able to provide some input, so that's good."
Wagner said if and when a decision on the program's future is made, there will be six months notice as stipulated in the current agreement.
Following the meeting, Wagner told The Citizen that the management council will be working to fix some of the bylaw inconsistencies. Whether or not the management council officially takes the inspection program over, he added that he did not believe the council would ever dissolve.
"Everybody wants to do the right thing," he said. "Whatever decision we make, we want this to not be influenced by any political yo-yo going up and down, whoever is in charge. We want it to be stable, neutral, and outlast the winds of change."