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Hospital administrators faced with a deadline on a tough anti-pollution code are crying foul.

They say they are trapped between regulators who want to cut state aid and enforcers who want them to spend scarce dollars to upgrade incinerators.

By one estimate, 30 hospitals in Western New York will have to spend $70 million to install state-of-the-art incinerators or retrofit units to meet the Jan. 1, 1992, deadline. Across the state, the cost will run $100 million to $265 million.

No one wants to estimate how these expenditures will translate into hospital costs, but all agree that the expenses will be reflected in patients' bills, whether paid by the individual, medical insurance or government benefits.

Many area hospitals appear unlikely to meet the deadline for bringing their incinerators into compliance, and some of those that are ready to act are pleading poverty. Two hospitals -- DeGraff Memorial in North Tonawanda and Children's -- are exceptions; they will comply.

The conditions today are not the same as those of a few years ago when, for example, the stacks of what is now Roswell Park Cancer Institute spewed fist-size pieces of half-burnt wastes.

"All the hospital incinerators meet the present codes, but none will meet the new code," said Henry Sandonato, a state air-quality engineer. "They have to stop discharging acids and particulate matter."

tors puts hospitals in fiscal squeeze
A policy dispute, meanwhile, has arisen between the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which wants hospitals to join in building regional disposal facilities, and the state Health Department, which wants on-site treatment of wastes.

The DEC sent the state's 264 hospitals a warning last month, advising them of the deadline and pointing out a potential schedule of fines that range up to $10,000 plus $500 for each day's violation.

Early this year, a survey of 34 hospitals in the eight Western New York counties indicated that about a third favored upgrading incinerators, about a third planned to study the possibility of hauling wastes away and about a third were "sitting on the fence," according William D. Pike, vice president of the Western New York Hospital Association.

Larger hospitals said they favored upgrading their incinerators, but smaller ones said they either cannot afford it or have not been able to come to a decision.

"We are in a squeeze," said Dennis McCarthy, spokesman for Sisters Hospital. "We are talking about $1 million to replace our 8-year-old incinerator at a time when New York is talking about cutting back on financial assistance."

Typical of administrators from smaller hospitals, Roger Ford of Bertrand Chaffee Hospital in Springville asked: "How can we get the $500,000 we need for an incinerator out of a 41-bed hospital?"

Children's Hospital is an exception, as public relations director Karen Swierski notes. A new incinera tor is on order and will be installed in April, she said. But at a price.

A year ago, Children's Hospital estimated that replacing a $250,000 unit installed five years ago would cost $1.5 million. Now, the cost is estimated at $1.95 million.

DeGraff Memorial Hospital installed a modern, $300,000 incinerator 1 1/2 years ago and is designing a scrubber to remove acidic discharges. That will cost more than $250,000, but hospital officials say they will meet the deadline.

Spokeswoman Joanne Fiore of Veterans Hospital said a new incinerator would cost $1 million to $3 million but that the go-ahead to spend the money has not been received.

Erie County Medical Center has hired a consultant to study the possibility of retrofitting its incinerator, which was built in 1978. But construction depends on obtaining $2 million from the County Legislature.

"Meeting a Jan. 1 deadline will be tight," according to Ed Cordes, director of engineering and facilities operation.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute needs $1.2 million from next year's state budget to retrofit a 3-year-old incinerator, said Michael Murphy, director of occupational and environmental safety.

Administrators at Buffalo General said that hospital is committed to meeting the deadline but at a staggering cost. Adding pollution-control equipment will cost $2 million, administrators said.

Western New York hospitals generally favor on-site incineration, which, they say, gives them control over costs and an opportunity to generate their own heat and power.

Buffalo General uses incineration to get rid of all its 12,000 pounds of waste a day, including infectious materials, kitchen and food wastes, paper products and the ever-increasing supply of disposable medical supplies and equipment. Roswell Park, for example, will add a heat-recovery unit when it installs equipment to control air pollution.

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