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St, Joseph Hospital in Fight for its Life

By Joyce Kryszak

Cheektowaga, NY – A defiant crowd gathered outside the emergency room of St. Joseph Hospital in Cheektowaga Tuesday. Catholic Health System and elected officials are vowing to keep the doors of the recently upgraded facility open.

Walk through the state of the art emergency room and you'll see quarantine and decontamination areas, rape consultation and private exam rooms.

The Catholic Health System thought of just about everything when the emergency room was upgraded about a year ago.

Everything except that it might soon close.

Joseph MacDonald is President of CHS. He questions the state's authority to close a private hospital.

That is just one of the legal arguments CHS is making to halt the hospital's closing.

WBFO has learned that CHS filed a lawsuit Tuesday in State Supreme Court.

Court papers claim that CHS's constitutional rights of religious freedom and due process were violated by the Commission's decision.

Outgoing State Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz agrees the panel's decisions were flawed.

He will submit a resolution calling on the state legislature to reject the recommendations.

Tokasz said the Commission violated its own criteria. Only financially troubled facilities were to be targeted. CHS says Saint Joseph operates at a surplus.

St. Joseph cardiac care educator Maria Pinti said the hospital proves its worth everyday - including during the recent October storm, keeping the doors open when residents had no where else to go.

But those doors could close by 2008. That is the date set by the Commission for the closing.

Cheektowaga resident Gary Kolacki sat in the spacious, comfortable new emergency waiting area to get treatment for his son. The other seats were mostly empty.

Kolacki worries that would all change if the Hospital closes and patients are forced to travel farther to over-burdened hospitals.

That decision will now be up to Governor George Pataki who must reject or approve the recommendations by December 5 and the state legislature that will vote later in the month.

But, ultimately, it might be the courts that decide.

Click the "listen" icon above to hear Joyce Kryszak's story now or use your podcasting software to download it to your computer or iPod.