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Twelve Western New York hospitals serving rural areas and a score of their adjacent public and private agencies will be among the recipients of $1.5 million in state grants designed to improve access to rural health services.

The grants announced by Gov. Pataki are part of a statewide $7.5 million fund derived from the Health Care Reform Act of 1996. The grant preparations began six months ago when the state Health Department first invited and then approved submitted project ideas, a spokesman said.

The grants aim to promote greater integration of health care services through networks. "Rural health care systems provide high quality care and are a major source of employment in their communities," Pataki said. "These grants will enable these systems to compete and prosper." The hospitals involved are WCA in Jamestown; Lake Shore, Irving; Salamanca Health Care Complex; Jones Memorial, Wellsville; Cuba Memorial; Westfield Memorial; Brooks Memorial in Dunkirk; Olean General; Tri-County Memorial, Gowanda; Bertrand Chaffee, Springville; Medina Memorial; and Wyoming County Community.

Tied in with the hospitals are school boards, substance abuse agencies, nursing facilities and county governments. The distributions for approved specific local projects are:

Chautauqua County Health Network directed by former Lt. Gov. Stan Lundine, $304,891; Southern Tier Health Care Systems, $308,600; Allegany and Western Steuben County Health Care Alliance, $155,000; Lake Plains Community Care Network, $320,000; and Healthy Community Alliance, $267,535.

"We're delighted," Lundine said. "The grant funds will be used to develop some managed care programs that may not be available to people here in Chautauqua County now, and might result in lower costs and simpler, more effective health care systems."

Additional rural health care access grants went to Cuba Memorial Hospital, $167,000, and Salamanca Health Care Complex, $60,000.

Chautauqua Correspondent Sheila McCarthy contributed to this story.

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