NIAGARA FALLS – Medical tourism, increasing training for health care jobs and bringing young people to work and live in the area are just some of the plans that two of Niagara County’s largest service organizations plan to work on together.
The leaders of Niagara University and Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, two institutions which each have each put millions of dollars of investment into the community, have been meeting since 2014 to identify opportunities for increased collaboration.
A memorandum of understanding to formalize the agreement was signed during a ceremony at Niagara University’s Niagara Global Tourism Institute on Sept. 9.
Joseph A. Ruffalo, president and CEO of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, said he envisions establishing a medical corridor in Niagara Falls, much like in Buffalo, and will be working with Patrick Whalen, director of Niagara University’s Global Tourism Institute. Whalen worked with the Buffalo-Niagara Medical Corridor and was responsible for a number of business incubators in Buffalo. Ruffalo said the medical center will work with Niagara University to seek funding for their own business incubator near the hospital on Niagara Street.
“We’re hoping to bring that expertise here to Tenth Street to really build out a regional medical corridor on Tenth Street,” he said.
He said Niagara University, the City of Niagara Falls and the hospital applied for a $500,000 grant through Empire State Development to establish the business incubator.
“It would be more than just medical, but medical would be large portion of that,” Ruffalo said of the incubator.
Medical tourism is also seen as a future initiative between the two organizations.
Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center already attracts Canadians to the Niagara Falls area for high-tech, minimally invasive surgery, but by working with NU’s Niagara Global Tourism Institute they plan to explore and develop worldwide marketing strategies, expanding the economic impact of both institutions.
Ruffalo said the Niagara University College of Hospitality is internationally ranked with distribution points all over the world, which they would like to plug into and offer medical packages in spinal surgery and complex gastrosurgical procedures as well.
He said they have been working with Dr. Michael Stoffman, a native of London, Ont., who is their hospital’s chief of neurosurgery, and without any overt outreach they have been reaching patients who are willing to come to the United States.
“Over (in Canada) they have long waits for testing, long waits for diagnosis and long waits to have their surgical procedures booked. Obviously there are people that are willing to pay to get out of pain and improve the quality of their life in a much more timely fashion,” said Ruffalo.
“Medical tourism may seem like two terms that are mutually exclusive, but they are a real concept and a driving force of many economies,” said Stoffman.
He said he started operating on Canadian patients 10 years ago, and has seen that business spread to other foreign patients by word of mouth.
“I think the potential is massive,” said Stoffman.
Other future initiatives will include workforce development - training students and job seekers for opportunities in the health care industry. The plans also include working as economic engines in the Niagara region, attracting a highly motivated and a gifted student body to the area and helping them to take advantage of new career opportunities in healthcare and other fields.
The initiative builds on relationships both already have with a robust student internship program, a disability awareness training program at Niagara University for health care workers and Memorial’s Tenth Street Cafe, which is the culmination of a nine-month effort by Niagara University’s College of Hospitality and Tourism and Canon Design to create a modern cafe at the hospital.
Dr. Dena Radatz, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at Niagara University also conducted a community needs assessment for Niagara Falls Memorial’s new Safe Harbor program at the Child Advocacy Center of Niagara. More than 100 professionals responded regarding their experience working with survivors of child trafficking.
The Rev. James Maher, president of Niagara University, said the partnership is able to “strategically leverage” the collective resources of the two organizations.