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HEAD OF ECMC DEFENDS SALE OF DIALYSIS UNIT

The chief executive officer of Erie County Medical Center Thursday defended his decision to sell for $5.9 million the medical center's dialysis center, which opened in the Cleve-Hill Plaza in Cheektowaga in 1996.

Paul Candino sought to justify the transfer as a county legislator and union leaders questioned the deal with Total Renal Care.

Legislator Gregory B. Olma, D-Buffalo, recalled that Candino three years ago argued for creating the center, which currently serves 104 patients, with potential to treat 150. "Your enthusiasm in getting into the deal was akin to your enthusiasm in getting out of this deal now," Olma said.

Candino replied that much has changed in hospital economics since he obtained the Legislature's permission to create the dialysis center, which lost $869,000 in 1997. "I don't regret the decision we made," Candino said. "I don't regret the decision I'm making today."

Hospital officials said that Total Renal Care, with several hundred renal-care facilities and 30,000 patients, can make a profit because it buys in bulk at much lower prices than the medical center must pay.

"We don't feel we can do as good a job," Candino said.

The hospital will make a $5.1 million profit on the investment, he said.

Michael Bogulski, president of Local 815, Civil Service Employees Association, called creation of the center "a slick deal."

He recalled that the unit closed for repairs within three weeks of the opening. "They opened up a state-of-the-art center with 100-year-old pipes," Bogulski said. "I think this thing was set up to fail."

Bogulski also asked why medical center administrators obtained only one offer other than Total Renal Care's.

Jeannette Nagel, a nurse, said months were spent training staff but the center never reached the point of full operation.

"Didn't anyone see we weren't going to make money?" she asked. "It's not my job -- it's the whole thing of the county having this asset and giving it away."

Joanne Riley, New York State Nurses Association, said Total Renal Care will hire new employees and staff at a lower level.

However, medical center administrators denied the dialysis unit's staffing levels would be cut.

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