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EXPANDED FAMILY CARE UNIT AT COLUMBUS TO DEBUT

A few years ago, Buffalo Columbus Hospital, in deteriorated condition and more than $3 million in debt, struggled to keep its doors open.

But the hospital, renamed the Columbus Community Health Center, is in far better shape since its merger into Buffalo General Hospital.

On Friday, the public can gauge the institution's progress at a "Community Day" to celebrate the scheduled opening Monday of a remodeled and expanded Family Care Center.

The center, which replaces aging facilities elsewhere in the building on Niagara Street, offers basic medical care, such as family medicine. New services have been added, including an eye clinic, pediatric care, family planning and expanded dental services.

"This is now a livable place for patients and employees," said Andres Garcia, president and chief executive officer of Columbus. He noted that the building did not have air conditioning until after the merger in 1996.

"More than that, we have all new equipment and access to the best physicians. That's good for the health of this community," he said.

The "Community Day," from noon to 5 p.m., will feature health screenings, food, pony rides, a petting zoo, music, tours of the health center and a live remote by Fiesta Latina, a Hispanic radio program broadcast on WHLD-AM.

Founded in 1908 for Italian immigrants who did not speak English, Columbus today serves a primarily Hispanic and African-American community.

Officials said Buffalo General provided $123,000 for renovations, and the Columbus Foundation contributed more than $46,000.

"The merger was the best thing that happened to the hospital," said Garcia.

Columbus Community Health Center also specializes in inpatient treatment for chemical dependency and treatment of people infected with the virus that causes AIDS. It also offers a needle exchange program aimed at reducing AIDS transmission through intravenous drug use.

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