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The head of Columbus Hospital has been named one of 12 "Up & Comers" in health care by a national trade magazine for the role he played in saving the hospital from closing.

Sushil Sharma, the 34-year-old president and chief operating officer, turned around a hospital that when he arrived in 1983 was burdened by a decade of losses and lost opportunities, presumed unsalvageable and prepared to close, according to a story in the June 18 issue of Modern Healthcare magazine.

The magazine's award is given to hospital officials 40 or younger who are considered "destined to become young leaders of the health-care industry." The 12 winners were chosen from more than 50 candidates suggested by the magazine's staff and readers.

"This places the hospital on the national map. It indicates our future is solid and secure. It is a great thing for the hospital and for me personally," Sharma said.

In the mid-1980s, regional health planners maintained there were too many hospital beds in Erie County and considered Columbus' beds unnecessary to meet the health-care needs of residents of the lower West Side. The residents needed physicians and primary-care services, according to health officials.

The area is characterized by a high infant death rate, a high percentage of low-birth-weight babies, a high percentage of people with incomes at or below poverty and a high percentage of residents 65 and older.

Columbus remained open but on the condition it turn the facility into an outpatient diagnostic and treatment center for the city's lower West Side and offer inpatient care to alcohol and drug abusers.

"In 1983, we looked around us and saw that our community was Hispanic, that there was a lot of unemployment, that there was a lot of alcohol and drug abuse. The demand for services was astronomical, but we weren't meeting the needs of our customers," he said.

"We had to change our ideology, as well as improve the services. We are bringing back the philosophy of a community hospital that listens when a community speaks," Sharma said.

For instance, he said, members of the Hispanic community have said jobs are a key issue and, as a result, Columbus has begun a program to train people for positions in the hospital.

As part of its transformation into a primary care center, the hospital is phasing out its medical-surgical beds and replacing them with 30 beds for acute-care alcohol detoxification, 30 for acute drug detoxification and 20 for inpatient drug rehabilitation.

Other services include primary care, a 24-hour urgent-care center, women's health services, medical rehabilitation, family planning and outpatient surgery.

in July, Columbus will open extension clinics in Holland and on Grant Street in the upper West Side.

Plans are also under way for extension clinics on Buffalo's North Side and in Amherst.

The outpatient center and alcohol and drug treatment facilities are expected to cost about $10.3 million and take two years to complete.

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