Recently, I have heard many misrepresentations of the facts regarding Erie County Medical Center's role in the community. It has been very disappointing to hear these comments with little regard for the facts. Unfortunately, many of these comments have been made to advance a political agenda or competitive advantage.
In these discussions, a few questions have surfaced. I'd like to address them:
Why not sell the hospital?
ECMC was sold for $85 million, and these dollars paid the 2004 county deficit. If the county had not received $85 million in 2004, it would have had to borrow it, cut services or raise taxes. For the $85 million, the county agreed to provide ECMC capital funding and a subsidy. ECMC agreed to pay for $26 million in costs previously paid by the county. So, since ECMC received only $19 million in 2005, ECMC actually subsidized the county by $7 million this year.
Also, in 2005, Kaleida Health received a "subsidy" of $28 million from the state and federal governments, and Roswell Park received more than $90 million from the state.
Why not merge?
ECMC has seen more growth than any hospital in Western New York and has the second highest occupancy, 84 percent. It is obvious that ECMC is driving quality, and physicians and patients are "voting with their feet" that ECMC is their place of choice. (Kaleida alone has lost over 5,000 patients per year since the year 2000). Quality and patient care should be the cornerstone of this discussion.
Why not close?
Closing ECMC would saddle the county with $280 million in costs for retiree health, pension, unemployment, contractual obligations, etc. In 2005, ECMC has reduced its subsidy by $6 million and will continue to reduce it. It is much less costly to continue operations than to close.
In addition to these costs, it would cost the other hospitals (which have significant debt already) at least $25 million to rebuild ECMC programs, and it would take many years to equal the level of quality at ECMC. Trauma, burn treatment and spinal cord rehabilitation are very expensive, complicated medical services and take a tremendous amount of expertise, technology and coordination. In addition, many "low paying" patients have traditionally been referred to ECMC by other hospital systems, and we treat them with the dignity they deserve.
So what's the answer?
In partnership with the county, the unions and the control board, ECMC can continue to provide the high level of care the area has come to expect and, eventually, with no taxpayer support. The best solution for health care in Western New York is to not dismantle the one hospital that is fully occupied, driving quality, serving the least fortunate of our community and providing the county millions of dollars in benefits -- not cost.
For the sake of our families, this discussion must ultimately focus on quality of care. The thousands of residents who have received care at ECMC know that its quality rates among the area's highest.
Dr. Joseph Zizzi is chairman of the ECMC board.