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Goldhaber Children's Poll Offers Before/After Picture

Dr. Gerald Goldhaber
Dr. Gerald Goldhaber

By Joyce Kryszak

Amherst, NY – According to a Goldhaber Research survey released Friday, 70 percent of those asked oppose Kaleida's recommendations concerning Children's Hospital. The poll was commissioned by Kaleida and has itself become part of the ongoing controversy.

Of the 610 adults polled in Erie and Niagara Counties, only 14 percent favored recommendations made by Kaleida's consultants, the Hunter Group. That report said the Buffalo area can no longer sustain a free standing Children's Hospital. Its recommendations included closing the Bryant Street facility and incorporating pediatric services into one of the other adult care hospitals.

Virtually everyone polled -- 95 percent -- were at least aware of the controversy. Pollster Gerald Goldhaber says the initial survey answers show which information is getting through.

"It's the role of all the parties involved, both in favor of the Hunter Group's recommendations or opposed to it, as to what messages get out," Goldhaber explained. "The only thing I'm able to do is measure what the public has actually heard, what has resonated with the public."

What they have heard, according to survey answers, is that Children's would move, close or merge with another hospital, that doctors may leave and that the recommendations are controversial. To a much lesser degree, Goldhaber said, respondents thought there could be improved services with cost savings. He described these responses as "soft" opinion.

"The initial measure of public opinion is reflecting nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to published headlines which do not, and had not carried factual information," he claimed.

Goldhaber says Kaleida wanted to know if opinion would change if people were better educated. So the company opted for a kind of "before and after survey." The second portion of the poll provided respondents with a set of five facts, representing only the company's position. When asked then, the number in favor of Kaleida changes rose to 49 percent. Goldhaber called the shift dramatic.

"In my 25-plus years that I've been in the public opinion polling business, I have never seen a shift in public opinion on a before and after presentation of facts of this magnitude," he said.

But Dr. Bradley Fuhrman, who is chief of pediatric intensive care at Children's, and an opponent of the move, questions the validity of the second response. He says they are based on "facts," that are at best, mis-statements.

"The first fact is that higher quality health care [would be achieved] by right-sizing and restructuring. I would categorically deny that the plan, as outlined, would be a right-sizing - it would be a down-sizing," Fuhrman said. "And the contention that the quality of care would be higher is categorically untrue."

In all, the survey presented respondents with five statements of fact, including that both women's and children's services would be provided at the new location, on separate floors, and that there would be completly separate children's and adult services, as well as a new pediatric outpatient and urgent care center. Dr. Fuhrman says they have no proof of any of Kaleida's facts.

"We have never seen a plan, either for the proposed High Street move, or for the move to Gates, or to Buffalo General, that clarifies how separate children's services would be provided," Fuhrman said. "So, that is entirely conjectural."

But Goldhaber defended the survey and its presentation of Kaleida's facts, calling them truthful statements which helped to educate respondents. Dr. Furhman agreed that the public needs to be better educated on the issue. But he says that means full disclosure.

"It's very important that all the facts be placed on the table for this," Fuhrman said. "It's important that the full Hunter report be aired. It's important that Kaleida develop plans before making proposals to the community --especially when they're talking about something as serious as closing the Children's Hospital."

Further recommendations from Kaleida's consultants, the Hunter Group, are still pending. Kaleida asked consultants to more closely study the viability of moving Children's pediatric services to Buffalo General Hospital. The board is scheduled to make a final decision on the proposed changes on March 11th.