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DeGraff Memorial Hospital, citing a decline in business and reduced payments for services, announced today that it will lay off 69 of its 963 employees next month and reduce the working hours of 110 others.

Officials said the layoffs were not related to a pending merger with the Buffalo General Health System or an indication that the North Tonawanda hospital may close soon.

DeGraff intends to remain open, said Thomas Schifferli, president and chief executive officer.

But, he added, no hospital can remain open forever without patients.

"Unless the people living and working in this community choose to utilize our physicians and related medical services, there will not be a sufficient base of patients to support this hospital," he said.

He noted that the number of patients discharged from the hospital has decreased 5 percent this year and 35 percent since 1995.

The layoffs, which will take effect Nov. 9, will include 59 union employees and 10 non-bargaining, non-management workers.

Employees working in 110 other positions will see their hours reduced.

One program will be cut -- the outpatient oncology and infusion center, which opened in November 1996 and had been closed recently because of lack of use.

Patients will be able to see their oncologists at DeGraff but now will receive their chemotherapy and other treatment at sites in Williamsville and Buffalo.

Representatives of Nurses United, Local 1168, Communications Workers of America, which represents approximately 600 nurses and other hourly workers at the hospital, expressed hope that the pending merger of Buffalo General, Millard Fillmore Health System and Children's Hospital would strengthen DeGraff.

They also urged residents to use the hospital, which has added new physicians in recent years but to little effect.

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