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Commentary: Western New York's Healthcare Dilemma

By Bruce Boissonault

Buffalo, NY – The State Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century is expected to make its recommendations public next week on which hospitals in New York should be closed. It's expected that the list will include as many as three hospitals in the Buffalo area. Listener-Commentator Bruce Boissonault says a reduction of hospitals will be good for the region.

Do we want numerous mediocre hospitals, or do we want fewer hospitals that can invest sufficiently to delivery world-class care to Western New Yorkers? Most people willingly would drive an extra mile or two to seek care at a hospital where they have a significantly better chance of surviving. The problem is that no one wants to see a hospital in their neighborhood close.

Winston Churchill said, "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened."

The truth is that the Buffalo area has too many hospitals for its own good. This is not my opinion. It is the informed conclusion of every Western New York hospital system CEO. It is the conclusion of the New York Times and the Buffalo News. It is the conclusion of the federal government's Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is the conclusion of the Oishei Foundation's Health Care Task Force and Cap Gemeni Consulting. And now, it is the opinion of the New York State Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century which was appointed by the Governor and legislature to address the problem.

According to the Commission, many hospitals in this region are underutilized, and as a result, are facing financial strains that have made it difficult or impossible for them to maintain adequate staffing at the bedside, acquire state-of-the-art equipment, upgrade facilities, or retain and attract top-flight clinical staff.

On November 28th, when the Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century issues its recommendations, the names of the hospitals targeted for closure will be big news. That is when it will be important to remember that it doesn't matter which adult, acute-care hospitals are closed, particularly in downtown Buffalo where they are so close together. What matters most is whether or not we actually succeed in closing enough hospitals to make the remaining ones viable. Success requires a fair and honest Commission plan which preserves access and which preserves competition in the marketplace. Of course, even if an excellent plan is implemented, it will remain hospital boards' responsibility to invest appropriately to improve quality and value.

Western New Yorkers as individuals are beginning to recognize that these are our hospitals, and that our hospitals -- which receive more than half of their revenues from the taxpayer -- should serve us by providing care which is competitive with other high quality regions such as Cleveland and at a competitive price.

Billions of state and federal dollars have been earmarked to spur implementation of the Commission's recommendations, but only if the Commission's plan for this region is sound, and only if the region's health care leaders implement it. If we do nothing, more than ever, it will be you and I, and our children and grandchildren, who will suffer the consequences through mediocre quality, massive debt and spiraling costs. "Too many hospitals" is not someone else's problem any more.

Bruce Boissonnault is President and CEO of the Niagara Health Quality Coalition, a not for profit health care watchdog group which publishes the New York State Hospital Report Card (SM) on myHealthFinder.com.

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