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THE ERIE COUNTY Medical Center had a good year in 1988, improving its financial position and ending up with a surplus of nearly $1.4 million, according to a just-released audit.

This is reassuring to county taxpayers, who may recall that not long ago the county-owned hospital was being overwhelmed with financial ills.

Since 1984, the county's financial contribution to the Medical Center has consistently declined in both absolute and relative amounts. Although the contribution is expected to go up this year because of rising health-care costs, the hospital's overall record is a good one -- especially in a period when many New York State hospitals are experiencing fiscal difficulty.

There is no question about what turned the Medical Center's fortunes around. In 1985, county voters approved a plan to end political interference in the hospital's affairs by placing it under the control of an independent board of managers.

Last November, voters strengthened the prospects for efficient, non-political operation of the hospital by ratifying a proposition that further defined and enhanced the board's powers.

Keeping the board strong and independent is the best way of ensuring that the Medical Center will continue to operate in a fiscally responsible manner, while providing the best possible health care to the people of Erie County regardless of their ability to pay.

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