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ECMC is a priceless asset that must be preserved

My eldest daughter recently reminded me that it was the 30-year anniversary of her graduation from E.J. Meyer Memorial Hospital School of Nursing.

She began her career as a registered nurse at Meyer. She went on to receive her bachelor of science in nursing degree by attending night classes at the University at Buffalo School of Nursing. She is now a middle manager at Erie County Medical Center, successor to Meyer Memorial. Her family is proud of her achievements, and the hospital that profited by her devotion has been a big part of her life.

In that regard, I submit that the problems our community faces are more than fiscal. We need to preserve and improve our valued assets. We should not discard them in order to regain fiscal stability. It took many years and great effort to establish the services that provide county residents with a quality lifestyle. ECMC serves 19,000 uninsured patient annually.

The county control board has an opportunity to turn negativity into a driving force to improve our image. The members of this board are well versed in asset management. Previous agendas should be put aside in favor of present-day needs.

ECMC is a teaching hospital, associated with the UB Medical School. Perhaps that relationship should be expanded. The control board should study the relationship between Strong Memorial Hospital and the University of Rochester and the possibilities such an arrangement offers. As a former ECMC administrator, Sheila Kee of the control board has valuable experience. She understands the hospital's workings and value to the community. Union involvement is also critical to survival.

Unlike the private hospitals, ECMC is not dollar driven. Part of the reason for the $19 million county subsidy is that some of the services provided to the public are not available at most other hospitals, mainly because these fields don't generate huge bottom-line profits.

They are the burn-treatment center, the AIDS unit and the outstanding trauma center serving everyone in Western New York. Patients lacking affordable health insurance can find help at ECMC. Medical care is provided under contract to state prison inmates. The hospital is an asset to the taxpayers, not a liability.

ECMC recently became a public benefit corporation, assuming $105 million of county debt in the form of bonds, with annual interest of $5 million. The hospital also took over the health insurance and pension costs of retired hospital employees. The county is no longer in the hospital business; the hospital is now a separate entity. Can the hospital legally be sold, merged or closed by Erie County?

The various departments of county government should be examined closely and proper action taken to make them operate in a more cost-effective way. Controlling costs is imperative to any business. I urge the control board to not sell our quality of life to pay for past mistakes. Let us not give away tomorrow. Instead, let's go on to new heights as a progressive community with high standards. We owe this to our children and grandchildren.

George DeWald Sr. lives in Springville.

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