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HEALTH CARE OFFICIALS BACK GIAMBRA ON SUMMIT

Leaders of Western New York's health care industry gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up Tuesday to Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra's call for a regional health care summit this spring.

But some of them also offered one caution: When it comes to regionalism, hospitals and health care will be a tougher nut to crack than most.

"We're willing to come together and talk, but health care is a bit of a different world," said Dennis McCarthy, spokesman for the five-hospital Catholic Health System. "Any time you talk about closing a hospital in Western New York, people get very upset."

Giambra said he doesn't care.

He said he's willing to be the bearer of bad news about hospitals in the Buffalo Niagara region, if need be.

"I'm not here to sugarcoat things. There have to be some (hospital) closures in this community," Giambra said in an interview about the summit proposal, unveiled Tuesday in his State of the County address.

Giambra said during his speech before 1,000 people in the Buffalo Convention Center that regional health-care and social services will be focal points of his second year in office.

He called on top health care leaders in Western New York to take part in the summit, which he billed as a major forum to get people talking about the problems facing hospitals and health care systems across the region.

John Friedlander, president and chief executive officer of Kaleida Health, said he supports the idea of a summit. But, he said, the discussion should be broad enough to include an examination of Erie County's role -- and whether the county should be in the business of providing direct health services.

"The county needs to have a much more clear direction of what it wants to do," Friedlander said.

"I would be more than willing to sit down and listen to what everybody has to say," he said.

Sheila K. Kee, chief executive officer of Erie County Medical Center, said it's a good time for local health care leaders to start talking about cooperating.

"The future lies not in competition, but in cooperation. Competition isn't getting anybody anywhere right now. But cooperation could," said Kee, who oversees a sprawling public medical center that cares for many of the area's poorest and neediest residents.

At the Catholic Health System, the feeling toward the summit was also positive.

However, Catholic system executives said the issue is much more complex than often is assumed.

"Government says, 'Yeah, let's fix it.' But some of this is not a local fix. It goes to the state and national levels, and some of it is societal. How do we take care of the poor?" said McCarthy, spokesman for the health system. Giambra said he hopes to convene the summit within the next few weeks.

He said he already has started talking to local leaders about participating and plans to include people such as Bishop Henry J. Mansell of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and University at Buffalo President William R. Greiner.

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