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The Erie County Health Department's plan to have Children's Hospital provide pediatric services at the Jesse Nash Health Center is drawing criticism from those who use the county facility.

More than 1,600 residents of Buffalo's near East Side have signed petitions calling on the county to continue running the clinic. Lucille Neal, president of the Jesse Nash Advisory Board, said the residents are distressed particularly that the changes are being made without their input.

Dr. Ralph S. Citron, acting county health commissioner, "has never bothered to come to us and tell us what he was planning to do," Mrs. Neal said.

"The word on the street is that they're letting the hospital take over the clinic," she said. "The next step might be a complete shutdown -- we don't know."

Erie County Legislature Chairman Roger I. Blackwell, D-Buffalo, also expressed concern about the clinic's future. He criticized Citron and County Executive Gorski for failing to keep the Legislature informed about the changes.

Blackwell said when rumors about changes at the clinic surfaced last fall, lawmakers passed a resolution calling on Gorski and Citron to brief them on any moves toward having outside concerns take over the health care.

"Apparently, we've been ignored, because we've been kept in the dark on this," Blackwell said.

The legislator said he and several other lawmakers will meet with residents later today in an attempt to learn their concerns and take them to the Gorski administration.

Citron confirmed Thursday that as of Feb. 5, Children's Hospital nursing and medical staff will take over the clinic's pediatric caseload. He said no changes will be made at this time in either adult or dental programs, but he acknowledged the county has had discussions with Sheehan Memorial Hospital to take over those services later this year.

"We're going to be able to give these people better medical care than they've ever had before," he said. "I'm especially excited about bringing the resources and expertise of an internationally renowned facility, like Children's, to the pregnant women and children who use the clinic."

Citron said another advantage to the association is that for the first time, the clinic will be offering evening and Saturday appointments. He also said no county workers will lose their jobs as a result of the changes.

He also pointed to the county's successful relationship with Children's Hospital in the operation of the Roberto Clemente Health Center on Buffalo's West Side. Since Children's began providing prenatal and pediatric care at that center last summer, patient visits have more than doubled, Citron said.

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