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It is unlikely that either Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center or Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston would be completely closed, but consolidation of some medical services can be expected under a realignment plan to be released in January.

Angelo G. Calbone, president of Health System of Niagara, said it is "very likely that we will continue to have services available at both locations." Health System of Niagara is the not-for-profit corporation formed in March when the medical center and the hospital signed an affiliation agreement.

The boards of Health System of Niagara and both hospitals still are working on the realignment plan, Calbone said. He said the organization is forcing itself to look at all options, one of which would be to locate acute care services, medical-surgical inpatients, surgery and obstetrics at one site. It has not been decided which site would offer those services if that option is selected, Calbone said.

"It's unlikely that we would completely close one of our campuses. But, we're working with the boards to determine that. We're not there yet," Calbone said.

Health System of Niagara held a series of forums last month to develop a better awareness in the community of the problems health care is facing. Calbone said community input was vital to the process of designing a new health-care delivery system for the western end of Niagara County.

The affiliation between the two hospitals is intended to reduce costs and improve medical care as dramatic changes sweep through the health care industry. Among the services expected to be shared are contracting for managed care, purchasing, finance, information services, marketing and planning.

The hospitals have been struggling with reduced income and declining patient loads, leading to the layoff last June of the equivalent of 38 full-time employees at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and the elimination of 20 full-time nursing positions at Mount St. Mary's.

Both hospitals are feeling the pinch of state and federal budget cuts, the admission of fewer patients and stringent cost controls by health maintenance organizations.

Because the hospitals duplicate services, the system was formed to make sure there will be less overlapping.

"We have two of almost everything between Niagara Falls and Lewiston," Calbone said during one of the forums.

"As two hospitals, we're losing significant amounts of money," he said.

Memorial Medical Center is a 288-bed not-for-profit community hospital at 621 10th St., founded in 1895 by a group of 100 community volunteers. Mount St. Mary's is a 179-bed hospital at 5300 Military Road, Town of Lewiston, founded by the Sisters of St. Francis Third Order Regular and now sponsored by the Daughters of Charity National Health System East Inc.

Together, the hospitals employ the equivalent of more than 1,600 full-time employees.

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