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EVERYBODY'S COLUMN / Letters from our readers

Let's not forget reality of Medicaid recipients

As those working in the field of community health, we urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Medicaid Redesign Team to focus on the basic health measures that are desperately low in Buffalo. As we hear calls for lower cost, better quality and improved access within Medicaid, we also need to consider the reality that health care does not exist in a vacuum. A healthy community is based in what the World Health Organization calls the "social determinants of health," and highlights the importance of creating an infrastructure that fosters healthy environments where people can live, learn, work and play.

We are heartened by Cuomo's desire to address New York State's poor state of health -- which, especially in the Medicaid population, is extremely poor despite being one of the most expensive health programs in the nation. Why? Especially in Buffalo, Medicaid recipients struggle to find or maintain a job, live in a lead-free house, access and afford fresh foods, remain free from the scourge of domestic and neighborhood violence and get an education in schools that can barely survive let alone promote learning.

The health care system alone will not deliver us health. Medicaid reform must consider the lack of opportunity for physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well being for the poorest. It is time to create an understanding of the basic foundation of health. Medicaid reform and improving our health care system are indeed important. But let us not forget the reality of many Medicaid recipients -- the hungry and homeless, the addicted and mentally ill, the poor and abused. Policy makers and community leaders must have the tenacity and patience to create sustainable opportunities for health, to stop investing the majority of our resources on a payment system that treats disease, and to shift the focus to public health priorities: community level prevention, education and empowerment.

Jessica Bauer Walker

Director, Community Health Worker, Network of Buffalo

Kathleen T. Grimm, M.D.

University Medicine/Pediatrics Women & Children's Hospital

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New York cannot afford extra Medicaid services

This is in response to the criticism of Erie County Executive Chris Collins' proposed Medicaid cuts. First, I find it ironic that most of the criticism comes from those with a vested interest in keeping the program and its many perks alive: physicians, optometrists and physical therapists.

Collins is not proposing an elimination of Medicaid, he is simply proposing an idea where the individual counties can opt out of the optional services New York State Medicaid offers.

Yes, Medicaid in New York State is a "Cadillac" program. No other state offers all of the taxpayer-funded benefits that New York does. Why do Medicaid recipients in other states get by without most of the optional services but those in New York State cannot?

Medicaid is a great program for those who need it, but the optional services simply cost too much and should be reformed or eliminated. New York State should offer the bare minimum benefits required by law, and that is it. If Medicaid recipients need a ride to and from their appointments, maybe the people at the providers' offices, who are so vocal with keeping the program as is, can drive them, instead of a taxi or an ambulance ride that is billed to the taxpayer.

Medicaid is simply too expensive and out of control. We have all had to make sacrifices in these tough times. Now it's time for Medicaid recipients to make some of their own sacrifices as well. Collins has my support.

Joseph M. Gartler

Buffalo

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Libraries are critical resource for citizens

Libraries are a critical element in an informed democracy, and the Buffalo and Erie County Library System was once a model to other communities. Even now, our shrinking system is seeing record use by county citizens. For many of us, our libraries are a critical and irreplaceable resource.

Yet, despite the taxpayers' tremendous, long-term, financial investment in and the high popularity of our libraries, the county executive has displayed nothing less than an open contempt for them. He has cut our libraries as quickly and as deeply as possible without even explaining why county budget priorities simply don't include -- as they have for nearly a full century -- free access to literature, music, film and other resources needed to maintain our founders' vision of an informed, effective citizenry.

Opponents of public libraries as a budget priority often identify the digitalization of media and the Internet as reasons why the library is becoming obsolete and cutting its budget is therefore justified. While I vehemently disagree, I understand reasonable people may believe this to be true. If the perception of obsolescence is the reason for dismantling the library system, then why has Collins not simply said so? Thus far, he has given no explanation for cutting library subsidies while increasing them to other government offices. I could live with these library cuts if they were the result of a considered public dialogue, but they're not.

It saddens me that another valuable public resource is at risk merely because the county executive personally places no value on it.

Frank Housh

Buffalo

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Writer should form her own story time program

A recent letter to the editor reminded me of my journey into volunteerism. The mom of two lamented that "story time" at her local library was cut due to county funding. This brought back memories of walking on the beach with my three kids and finding numerous syringes and other medical waste washed up on shore.

Writing to local agencies didn't help. So I took matters into my own hands and started the Great Lakes Beach Sweep. I was working full time with a family, but asking for volunteers was easy; come and pick up and remove trash from the shoreline. The first year brought out a few volunteers, but now, 26 years later, thousands of volunteers of all ages have helped make the shoreline a cleaner place.

I would like to challenge this mom to start her own program. All she needs is a location. If the Clearfield Library won't provide space, try a church or community center. Start with a few moms and pretty soon she'll have her own great project. She will be surprised how many are willing to help.

The best part of your own volunteer group is doing your own thing. Not having any public funding has freed me from meetings, boards or fundraising. You show up, do your thing and go home. You can put as much time and energy in a project as you wish. Best of all, no one can tell you what to do.

My family motto has always been "lead, follow or get out of the way." This would be a great opportunity for her to do something great for her community and teach her kids to problem solve rather than wait for our government to help out.

Sharen Trembath

Angola

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Collins seems to lack empathy for residents

While I do not disagree with some of the tough decisions that County Executive Chris Collins has had to make to help our overburdened taxpayers, I do think he could use some lessons in compassion. I would suggest that he view some of the extraordinary photos by the late Milton Rogovin to try to get an understanding of how some of the people outside of Spaulding Lake live. Instead of being so Scrooge-like, Collins might try to develop a sense of empathy for some of our less-connected residents.

Jim Bialasik

Springville

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Why should we pay for others' mistakes?

I read with interest the letter from the single mother who suggests Chris Collins should "hide his head in shame" for cutting the child care subsidy. Who did she think was going to support her child before she became pregnant, given that she was ill prepared to do so herself? Perhaps she should contact the father for child support instead of wanting Collins to get it from the taxpayers in the form of subsidies. Failing that, maybe she can get family members to pitch in. Who should hide their head in shame? Collins, for trying to protect the innocent taxpayers, or people who think the taxpayers are their personal piggy bank, there to pay for their poor planning?

E. Ceceil Pauly

Elma

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Giffords' coverage has been overblown

At the risk of getting reams of hate mail, I would like to start out by stating that I am in complete sympathy with the family of Gabrielle Giffords. She has certainly been an inspiration with her strength and courage. However, there were several others killed and injured in this unfortunate occurrence. Aside from the publicity regarding the beautiful young girl and, possibly, the judge who were killed, it seems to me that the other victims have been grossly neglected. I am certain that the families of these ill-fated individuals are just as grief-stricken and remorseful as is the Giffords family.

One cannot pick up a newspaper or turn on a TV without being bombarded with blow-by-blow descriptions of this terrible tragedy. The fact that Giffords has an astronaut husband and is a member of Congress surely adds to the publicity, but the others were equally stricken. Also, there are many other items of interest in the news and I really think this coverage has been overblown and repetitious. Perhaps we could downplay this a little and be subject to some other timely topics.

Alice M. Szanyi

Kenmore

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Fracking poses risk to our water supply

I attended a screening of a documentary film called "Gasland" about the dangers associated with the natural gas drilling process called fracking. It is a profoundly frightening process due to the unregulated toxic chemicals used in the drilling. Our federal environmental laws regarding clean air and water do not cover this industry. The safety of our drinking water is at risk. No amount of profit or job creation is worth the destruction of our water resources. People need to pay attention to this danger before it is too late.

Michelle Johnson

Grand Island

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