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Main St. group protests end of outreach

The Main Street Business and Professional Association has sharply criticized the way Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center has handled the closing of a federally funded outreach program for the medically underserved.

The association said the hospital appears to have "a lack of concern" for the poor and asked that Memorial find emergency funding to keep open its Outreach for Wellness in Niagara program, according to a letter sent last week to Joseph Ruffolo, the hospital's president and CEO.

The program has offices at 1901 Main St., but will stop offering services there on Feb. 28 as its federal grant, administered through the state Health Department, runs out.

The program, which has used $5 million to operate since 1998, helps poor residents and senior citizens get health insurance, emergency prescriptions and other medical services. It employs four case workers whose work includes helping with emergency room intervention and conducting education courses in the hospital and in schools.

Hospital officials decided a week ago that Memorial would take over the emergency prescription program and run it out of its Hamilton B. Mizer Primary Care Center at Ferry Avenue and 10th Street. It also will add Charles Giles, OWN project director, to the hospital staff as a community outreach specialist.

However, spokesman Patrick Bradley said the hospital cannot afford to replace all the services it now offers or hire the other six employees, because the hospital is financially committed to a new $20 million facility to house an expanded emergency department and its Heart Center of Niagara.

Giles is the executive vice president of the Main Street association, but was excused from the meeting where the group decided to send a reproachful letter to Ruffolo.

"Collectively and individually our members serve the same clientele as OWN, and their welfare is of the utmost importance to us," association President Claudia Miller wrote in the letter. "For Memorial to remove their access to the myriad of services provided by OWN is beyond our comprehension. While we understand that Memorial is, like many of us, always strapped for cash, we know the amount of money required to keep OWN operational is small in comparison to the $20 million spent on the [new building to house the] Heart Center and ER1."

Association members say it is important for the hospital's outreach component to have an office on Main Street because that's where the people who need help live. Laurie Davis, former vice president of the association, said the group is also upset that the hospital kept quiet about the closing because her group would have tried to help prevent the closing.

Since the letter was sent, Bradley has scheduled a meeting with Miller to discuss how the hospital can work with the association toward a smooth transition of services. Giles said he supports Memorial's reaction to the end of federal funding, saying the community needs to understand that although the hospital is not hiring any of OWN's other employees, it is putting about $175,000 into the continuation of services.


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