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The boards of directors of the Lake Shore Health Care Center in Irving and Tri-County Memorial Hospital in Gowanda have announced the opening of discussions on a possible merger.

No date has been set for the completion of the evaluation process.

Craig L. Brown, board president of Tri-County, and Vincent J. Ferraro, his counterpart at Lake Shore, said the two organizations are discussing ways to enhance the quality and delivery of services to the rural communities they serve.

The development of a new health-care system would help contain health-care costs and reduce duplication of services, according to Brown and Ferraro.

Physicians and key administrators representing both hospitals also are involved in the discussions. Many members of the medical staffs have privileges at both locations.

"With today's health-care environment, there's an emphasis on managed care and cost containment," Brown said. "One of the big things too is the reduction in state and federal reimbursement. This makes it imperative that health-care providers like us explore avenues for providing quality health care in the most cost-effective manner as possible."

Both communities would retain their health-care facilities, Brown said, but consolidation of services would be the main goal.

Tri-County is affiliated with the Buffalo General Health System. Lake Shore is in the process of finalizing an affiliation agreement with the Millard Fillmore Health System. Brown said a merger of Tri-County in Cattaraugus County and Lake Shore in Chautauqua County would not affect their agreements with hospitals in Erie County.

Asked about possible elimination of jobs through a merger of some services, Brown said: "We're going to have to determine what the staffing levels would be if we merged. We're not even close to that question yet."

Ferraro was unavailable to comment Tuesday.

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