Life in the Time of COVID by Dr. Richard Sternberg
FoxCare Fitness Closing Makes Sense
First and foremost, let me say that the views in this column are mine and mine alone. They do not necessarily represent the views of this newspaper and information service.
Two weeks ago, I was away at the annual meeting of my medical specialty society. I suppose I was just trying to keep my hand in, even though I have been retired for eight years. Things have changed dramatically, and not just in surgical techniques. Medicine is a completely different business than 20 years ago when I had a solo independent practice.
I came back to town and read in this paper several letters to the editor regarding the closing of FoxCare Fitness. I assume the announcement was made the week I was away. I actually felt bad for Bassett Healthcare for having to deal with the brunt of these complaints.
The hospital and healthcare business is a severely threatened industry. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re dealing with small practices or one of the biggest healthcare operations in the country. Everybody’s feeling the pain. It’s a national phenomenon. I read that Cleveland Clinic lost approximately $1 billion last year. I’ve heard the figure of an $80 million loss being associated with Bassett Healthcare. The actual numbers are not important. What is important is that healthcare facilities have watched their revenue decrease while their expenses markedly increase to the point that their endowments, if they have them, will not be able to keep pace with the red ink.
We have been very fortunate in central New York and especially Otsego County. Essentially, our local healthcare system has been subsidized for more than 100 years by the Clark family, and this continues to be the case. There are amazing benefits to the health status of the people of our community, not just directly related to the hospital, but in ancillary services. Nevertheless, the ability to sustain increasing losses will quickly become exhausted.
I worked at the FoxCare building. I thought FoxCare Fitness was great. As a business, though, it was unsustainable. Seven hundred fifty members cannot generate enough income to keep an operation like that going. To the people who are upset about a closing and feel that in some way it is unfair, I commiserate with you, but if, indeed, an organization is losing about $1.5 million a week anything that is not specifically core mission has to be jettisoned. At least Oneonta still has the YMCA and, as I understand it, the Y may be willing to take over FoxCare Fitness. Yes, the losses there are a drop in the bucket compared to the rumored $80 million a year, but losses that can be eliminated unfortunately have to be, in order to protect the core mission, which is to deliver medical care to a very large area of Central New York. Bassett, having created almost a monopoly of healthcare in the Leatherstocking Region, has a moral obligation to support its prime mission of which it is well aware. Officials are endeavoring to do so now and will keep doing so for the future.
To stay alive, in order to keep us alive, hospital organizations are just going to have to cut everything they possibly can—at least until other units, including the government, give reasonable compensation for the services performed.
So, in summary, don’t blame our local healthcare system for the tough decisions it has to make. Don’t misunderstand me. I have plenty of criticisms, for plenty of things that Bassett does or doesn’t do, but closing unprofitable cost centers that don’t directly contribute to the core mission is inevitable.
Dr. Richard Sternberg is a retired Bassett Healthcare orthopedic surgeon.