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State urged to pay for hospital changes Kaleida's union chief agrees with its president that Albany funds are needed for transitions

The president of a union representing nearly 4,000 workers at Kaleida Health agrees with Kaleida's chief executive: Now that a hospital-closure plan affecting three Kaleida facilities has become law, state government must provide the money to accomplish the changes in Western New York.

The union will work to haul in a fair share of the $2.5 billion that has been pledged by Albany and Washington, D.C., to winnow the state's oversized health care system, John Klein, president of Local 1168, Communications Workers of America, said Monday.

Klein also said he didn't think Kaleida's recent statement to work with the plan, rather than challenge it, departs from its past position.

"Kaleida's stance has been right along -- even when they originally rejected it -- to move forward," Klein said. "The key point is that the money has to be attached to it. It has to be a plan that's workable. To that point, I don't think Kaleida has changed their stance."

In selecting trims to New York's health care network, the Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century said Kaleida should close its Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo, convert DeGraff Memorial in North Tonawanda to a nursing facility and merge its Buffalo General with Erie County Medical Center.

Officials at Kaleida, which serves 1 million patients a year and is the region's largest health care provider, felt the commission hit them too hard.

"The report disproportionately impacts Kaleida Health by placing three of our organizations at risk," Chief Executive Officer James R. Kaskie told the state legislators who convened a hearing in December. "It is not a prudent business plan. No other private sector company would ever accept this."

Kaskie also raised legal concerns: The commission report appears to be "a direct overreach of government into the private sector" with questionable constitutionality, he said.

But the State Legislature did not intervene, and the commission's report became law when the new year began Monday. In anticipation, Kaskie circulated a statement in which he accepted the new reality but stressed the need for dollars to help usher in the changes.

"We urge Gov. [Eliot] Spitzer, his administration, the Department of Health as well as the New York State Legislature to secure Western New York's fair share of health care reform dollars," he said.

"The commission has targeted our community as the No. 2 priority for reform behind New York City. If that is the case, we should demand to be the second-highest funded," he said. "With no money, there will be no reform."

Klein of the CWA agrees.

"I firmly believe the heat has to be held on Albany to assure the proper funding and that everyone has a seat at the table. At CWA, we are going to continue to put pressure on the new Legislature and the new governor to fairly treat Western New York based on the commission report, which, as it stands today, unfairly attacks hospitals in Western New York."

The commission also said that Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston should merge with Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and that St. Joseph Hospital in Cheektowaga should close.

The CWA local had begun a publicity campaign to brand the commission's report unfair. Patients were never consulted, and operating rooms and emergency rooms will be forced to close, the union complained.

Today, another chapter in the campaign begins when two members of the CWA local's executive board begin an approximately 20-day walk from Buffalo to Albany to draw attention to the closure plan.

One of the walkers, Pat Sullivan, works in patient reception and registration in DeGraff's radiology department. The other, Dawn Mele, is an anatomic pathology assistant at Millard Fillmore. Their 320-mile route will swing past other affected facilities upstate.


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