During a special meeting called to rescue Erie County Medical Center, the County Legislature on Tuesday approved $9.6 million in bonds for a new hospital computer system with the minimum 12 votes needed for passage.
The money -- vociferously questioned by legislators of both parties -- comes from funding designated for the new courthouse but not needed this year.
Three city Democrats and Minority Leader Frederick J. Marshall, R-East Aurora, voted against the computerization that the medical center says it needs to keep bills and orders flowing. The three Democrats were George D. Holt, Gregory Olma and Albert DeBenedetti, all of whom frequently are at odds with county leadership.
Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore, said the hospital administration and the medical center's board of managers have created considerable ill will by recent raises approved for top administrators. But he stressed that the hospital's survival depends on quickly contracting for a new computer system.
"This hospital continues to be a tremendous asset to this community," Swanick said. Without a computer management system, the medical center would be forced out of business, he said.
The center has contracted for computer services for five years from Buffalo General Hospital, which recently merged with Children's and Millard Fillmore hospitals and now is changing its computer system. Swanick said Buffalo General is a serious competitor of the medical center. The computer contract will end early next year, he said, and without the new system, the medical center will be unable to send out bills.
More than two hours of debate preceded the vote, with a couple of breaks for party conferences and technical explanations.
County Budget Director Kenneth C. Kruly listed projects that will be funded in bonds to be sold in October, announcing that $2.5 million in delayed road and bridge work will move forward.
The work is in the suburbs, and with the exception of Marshall, suburban legislators supported the bond resolution.
Marshall questioned using money earmarked for the new courthouse.
He was highly critical of the medical center's board of managers, whose perquisites for administrators so angered the legislators that they refused to vote on the request for the hospital information system a week ago.
Later the same day, the board rescinded bonuses for four administrators of the financially strained hospital and withdrew $15,000 a year in tuition paid to Paul J. Candino, chief executive officer, for pursuing a master's degree in business management.
"Shouldn't we be looking at reform of the hospital?" asked Marshall.
Both Democrats and Republicans questioned the demand for a vote under threat that Meditech of Boston, designated by hospital administrators as the preferred contractor, would withdraw technicians who have been working without charge to the hospital to pave the way for installing the new system.
Kruly distributed a revised list of projects that will be funded by the October bond issue, with the courthouse left out. More than half the money will go to medical center projects, with the hospital computer system listed for $8.7 million this year. The remaining $900,000 will be provided in subsequent budgets.