Remarks made by Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel during a recent radio interview have the staff and administration at Brooks-TLC Hospital System in Dunkirk shaking their heads.
In a 15-minute interview Monday morning on WDOE, Wendel was asked to give an update on the future of Brooks-TLC and the $74 million in state funding that was set aside since 2016 for a new facility that is being eyed for Fredonia. His response on that day went directly to the issue of mental health.
“That’s critical here in the north county,” Wendel said, indicating he had spoken with both the Dunkirk and Fredonia police departments. “The only other hospital is in Jamestown, N.Y., at UPMC Chautauqua. So, having said that, if there is a person in crisis, the last place they need to be is in the back seat of a patrol car.”
During the three minutes on the topic, Wendel also noted that before Lakeshore Hospital closed in February 2020, the Irving location had provided that type of care that is now no longer available at Brooks. While touching on those mental health needs of the region, he rarely addressed the issue of the new facility being targeted for the East Main Street property across the street from the Fredonia Central School campus entrance.
This did not sit well with those inside the walls of the Brooks-TLC location in Dunkirk. Earlier this week, many voiced their displeasure through social media and later through calls to the OBSERVER about the lack of support cited during the radio talk.
“I have spent the majority of my nursing career at Brooks Hospital,” said Lisa Barone, registered nurse, on her Facebook page. “I’ve dedicated myself to helping the people of my community. Even though I’ve had offers to go to bigger hospitals I stayed. Why? Because the people here matter! The words (Wendel) speaks do not support the hundreds of workers and thousands of community members who are relying on a hospital in this area. How can you be elected to a position by the very people you are hurting?”
Joseph D’Amore, Dunkirk resident and Brooks-TLC employee, said the executive’s comments were “irresponsible.”
“Mental health is a national and countywide problem,” he wrote. “Brooks-TLC cannot solve this alone. Throwing patients into an unsafe situation is not the answer. They deserve proper treatment. And, to throw stones at the hospital, when you do not fully know or understand this situation is appalling.”
Ken Morris, who has served as chief executive officer and president of Brooks-TLC since August, also addressed his concerns with the interview, noting that before programming can be addressed, a new facility has to happen.
“Behavioral health is an important issue for our county and every county,” he said in a statement this week. “However, our focus is on a new hospital that treats and cares for thousands in a facility that is attractive to recruit talent and additional business to the area. This effort supports a much larger, broader population to provide immediate stabilization for emergencies such as heart attacks, strokes and minor trauma. We have been in discussions with county representatives to discuss behavioral health issues, however, we need strong elected leadership to secure our future first.”
Wendel, in a phone interview on Thursday, understood the sentiments. He also gave his full support for the new Fredonia location.
“We need health care services in the north county,” he said. “I am behind that 100% and doing all I can as county executive to make this happen.”
His most recent conversation with the governor’s office, Wendel said, offered nothing new in regard to any action taking place. That being said, he also saluted the work of the staff and Morris.
“Ken’s got the knowledge and the background. … There’s no better person than Ken Morris to be in charge of the hospital right now,” Wendel said. “I support him 100%. … All I’m saying is we need more help (at Brooks-TLC), but I stand behind whatever it’s going to take.”