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Both Sides in Children's Dispute Argue Positions

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By Mark Scott & Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – For the second time in less than a week, dueling news conferences were held by advocates of both sides in the ongoing Children's Hospital dispute. A top Kaleida Health official outlined the benefits of a new pediatric center of excellence at Buffalo General Hospital. Later on, physicians and other Children's employees argued the hospital would lose its world-class status by moving it.

The original recommendation of the Hunter Group, a health care consulting company, called for closing the Children's Hospital Bryant Street campus, moving pediatric services to Millard Fillmore Hospital at Gates Circle. But at a news conference last week, Kaleida CEO William McGuire basically ruled out that option, saying it didn't make any sense. He then said the Hunter Group would study how to incorporate Children's into the Buffalo General campus on High Street. Yesterday, Kaleida's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Shields gave reporters a glimpse of what that would look like.

"The Hunter Group is looking at all new ambulatory facilities, including outpatient surgery, diagnostics and emergency medicine, separate and distinct entrances for all children, lobby and registration for pediatric outpatient, same-day surgery and inpatient care and state of the art services for obstetrics," Shields said.

Shields said inpatient services and pediatric intensive care would be located inside existing space at Buffalo General. A new building would house the outpatient and diagnostic services, along with the new entrances.

"The important aspect of pediatric care is that it has shifted heavily to outpatient care," he said. "So, an entrance for outpatient care is really the entrance for the vast majority of our (pediatric) patients. But those being admitted for inpatient care would also enter and register here. It's kid friendly."

Shields says the new pediatric center will match the care currently provided by Children's Hospital. But pediatricians remain skeptical. Not one has publicly come out in support of Kaleida's plan for Children's. Shields says that's not surprising.

It's a very emotional time at Children's," he continued. "Because of that very high emotion, it is hard for a physician to stand up and say maybe we should explore some other options."

Shields says he remains optimistic about overcoming the differences between pediatricians and adult specialists over the future of Children's Hospital. Bottom line, he said, the status quo will lead to diminished care for children.

"We have top be creative and look to the future and come up with some new designs and plans to that we can maintain, and in fact, exceed the current quality that we have," Shields concluded.

Also Wednesday, a number of specialists from Children's rallied in the rain outside the hospital. The Service Employees International Union, Local 1199, represents Children's specialists including physical therapists, pediatric pharmacists and clinical lab scientists. The union says it needs to know what specific services would be included in the proposal to move Children's from Bryant Street. Specialists say moving services into Buffalo General would not meet the needs of children.

"Whether it's dermatology, surgery, orthopedics, drawing blood, taking stitches out. People just aren't able to do simple things like that with children. They are not able to cope with them and deal with them," said Donald Cuttlerbuck, a registered nurse in Children's Emergency Room. He said the ER handles 45,000 sick and injured children a year, with 26 beds. Cuttlerbuck says one of the Kaleida proposals calls for scaling back the number of emergency room beds. He says the need more space, not less. And yet another specialisist Pam Riester, a urology nurse, says her division serves 400 patients a year with unique needs.

"They have to be monitored. If their bladders are not monitored, they could go into kidney failure," she explained. "They have to been seen at least annually, some of them with growth spurts have to be seen two or three times a year. I do not know where my patients are going to go if they close Children's Hospital. I have no idea where they are going to go."

Kaleida says the proposal to move Children's services would include a new pediatric ambulatory center, neonatal intensive care unit, pediatric inpatient facilities separate from the adults and a newborn nursery. But Children's specialists like Carl Lewis, who draws blood from tiny infant arms, and Linda Malobecki, who conducts ultrasounds, fear their services would not be included in the proposed transfer.

"Because we treat children all the time, we get the best possible images without traumatizing our patients," Malobecki said. "Sometimes almost an entire appointment slot can be taken up trying to calm and console a child into cooperating for their exam."

The other issue SEIU members are concerned about is jobs. Kaleida says the proposal would eliminate 370 full-time jobs. Dr. Theodore Putnam, a pediatrician at Children's, says he fears Children's specialists could be out of work.

"I would imagine it's going to be our employees," he said. "Who is going to be missing from this team? That is the worrisome part about it."

State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt closed out the rally saying the proposal is not in the best interest of women and children in the region.