I have followed with interest recent comments regarding health care in Western New York. I am concerned about the community's perception of the status of the health care resources.
We are facing a critical shortage of surgeons. This is a function of the aging and/or retiring of the present surgical community and the inability to attract and retain the next generation of surgeons. In Buffalo, surgeons receive much less reimbursement per procedure or unit of professional activity than surgeons in other communities of upstate New York and most of the country. The low level of payment and the high cost of practice force both new and established surgeons to seek communities outside Western New York where they can achieve a reasonable lifestyle and pay their bills.
Western New York has a superb cadre of surgeons who have accepted the reality of their life and financial challenges. They often work 60 to 80 hours a week during their scheduled days with 10 to 15 call nights monthly. Their dedication and resolve has avoided a crisis. Some are retiring either as a natural course of their professional lives or prematurely. Others are leaving the community to practice elsewhere.
Further, medical students and surgical residents have borrowed substantial sums to pay for their education. They need professional opportunities where they can work, support a family and pay their bills. These are often outside Western New York. The University at Buffalo's surgical training program graduated 117 surgical residents over the past 13 years. Less than 30 percent remain active in the community.
Low reimbursement to the region's hospitals, which provide technology and support surgeons in their practice, compound the problem. In metropolitan areas as close as Syracuse, reimbursement rates to hospitals are substantially higher than in Western New York.
Increased reimbursement is essential to recruit and retain surgeons while providing the medical technology they need to function. The community needs to understand the challenges and require that they be addressed.
JAMES M. HASSETT, M.D.
Clinical Service Director
Department of Surgery