Taxpayers still on the hook for Massena hospital’s hefty debts

WWNY Taxpayers still on the hook for Massena hospital’s hefty debts

MASSENA, N.Y. (WWNY) - The town sold the debt-ridden Massena Hospital. But it looks like the town and its taxpayers are still on the hook for millions of dollars.

The town sold Massena Hospital to St. Lawrence Health System at the end of last year. The hospital had been losing money for years. The sale relieved the town of a huge financial burden. But not entirely. It now owes a $950,000 bill for workers’ compensation.

And that’s not all. County officials who run the workers’ compensation plan say next year’s premium bill will also include the hospital. And they say the town is responsible for paying compensation to hospital workers who opened claims before the sale. That could total millions of dollars more.

“If the plan were to forgive that debt, then the other plan participants would be responsible through there apportionment to actually cover that responsibility,” said Stephen Button, St. Lawrence County attorney.

That means other towns, villages, and volunteer fire departments would have to pay. County officials say they won’t allow that. Town Supervisor Steve O’Shaughnessy hopes something can be negotiated.

“It’s confused as to what’s paying what and how this can be resolved. We want to figure out how we can get this down to zero,” he said.

The county says the town could borrow to pay it. Part of the town’s sales tax portion could be used. A last resort would be the county taxing Massena residents directly for it.

“Our hope is that we can find some kind of repayment plan with the town...There are a number of solutions that could be reached that are agreeable,” said Button.

But the workers’ comp bills have to be paid, the county says. And even that’s not all: another debt the hospital ran up was pension debt. At one point last year it owed the state retirement system more than $8 million. The state comptroller says the total balance due from the town as a whole now is $2.1 million.

O’Shaughnessy said St. Lawrence Health System is not involved in the negotiations over the workers’ comp or the pension debt. Basically, that ship sailed when the sale of the hospital closed last year.

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