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A citizens committee that opposes the consolidation of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and Mount St. Mary's Hospital of Lewiston called upon the hospital leadership Tuesday to resign.

The committee also offered to work with a newly formed hospital administration to help find the first $5 million to eliminate the accumulated debt at Niagara Falls Memorial.

Health System of Niagara, which operates both hospitals and is moving forward with consolidation plans, did not respond directly to the committee's requests but said it remained "firmly committed to providing quality health care."

Angelo G. Calbone, president and chief executive officer of Health System, said: "We need everyone's help, support and energy focused on the challenges that are before us. With the support and efforts of the entire community, we will be able to continue our mission of health care."

Calbone is one of the principal targets of the criticisms issued Tuesday by the group called Citizens Against Hospital Merger. The group asked for the resignation of Calbone and of all of the members of Health System's board of directors.

Citizens Against Hospital Merger suggested that the certificate of need for the consolidation be withdrawn, that a new board of directors be formed by local residents and that a collaborative alliance be sought with CGF, the new operating umbrella for Children's, Buffalo General and Millard Fillmore hospitals in Buffalo.

In support of the committee's goals, County Legislator Renae Kimble, D-Niagara Falls, drafted resolutions recommending the formation of a blue ribbon panel to devise a strategic plan for both hospitals, designating some money from the tobacco industry settlement to establish a "Save Our Hospitals Fund," and asking for a state review of the Health Care Reform Act of 1996.

Miss Kimble said she also would ask the County Legislature to consider the possibility of redistributing revenue from the local sales tax, or to increase the sales tax, "to raise additional monies for the Save Our Hospitals Fund."

Niagara County currently has a 3 percent local sales tax in addition to the statewide 4 percent tax. Miss Kimble suggested that the local share could be increased to 4 percent, which would match the local sales tax in Erie County and elsewhere.

Shelley Stuchell, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Niagara County Inc. and member of Citizens Against Hospital Merger, said: We propose that something new happen, that the certificate of need (for the merger) be withdrawn, that all affiliation with the Daughters of Charity be dissolved, and that CGF Health Systems (of Buffalo) be brought in to save our hospital."

Under the present consolidation plan, both hospitals are to become subject to operating policies of the Catholic Daughters of Charity, which would severly restrict reproductive and family planning services, including contraception and abortion.

Having lost about $8.5 million so far this year and facing a debt of more than $40 million, Health System said last week that it did not have enough money to go through with the entire consolidation that it had planned, and board members said some programs might be eliminated and some employees laid off.

The board had announced in January that most medical, surgical and obstetrical services would be consolidated at Mount St. Mary's, and that Memorial would become essentially a nursing home with a cluster of outpatient clinics.

Following a public outcry against that plan, the board decided in April to continue maternity and newborn services at both hospitals and to maintain an 18-bed intensive care unit and a 35-bed inpatient unit at Memorial while still transferring the bulk of inpatient medical and surgical care to Mount St. Mary's.

That plan, too, met with considerable opposition, and the board announced abruptly last week that it had decided to keep both hospitals open with "traditional services such as full-service emergency rooms, inpatient and maternity care."

Last week's announcement added, however, that any department, program or service that was "not financially viable may be reduced, restructured or eliminated." No further details were made available.

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