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Kaleida-ECC deal a winner Training for future jobs helps both concerns, region improve operations

For a region fixated on trees instead of the forest, the sensible, proactive partnership Kaleida Health and Erie Community College announced this week shows the practical leadership too often in short supply around here.

The coordination is elegant in its simplicity. Kaleida, the region's dominant health care operation, faces a shortage of nurses and medical technicians. ECC, the area's major educator of students most likely to seek local entry-level careers, defined its vision years ago as training those students. ECC will expand its nursing, radiology, respiratory therapy, health information and medical lab technology programs. Kaleida, for its part, will offer scholarships to employees interested in pursuing those degrees at the two-year college.

Call it dovetailing, regionalism, badda-bing, whatever you choose. It's old-fashioned good sense. Other health care concerns should get in with ECC, or other schools, like D'Youville, Medaille, Niagara County Community College, Daemen, Niagara University, Buffalo State and the University at Buffalo, all of which already have health-related programs.

Kaleida has the jobs, but needs people trained to perform them. ECC provides training, but needs to offer the carrot of employment before students are going to commit. Kaleida's nursing staff is predominantly in its 40s and 50s. In an area that already has high percentages of older people, health experts know that aging baby boomers will add to that demographic. Act now to avert a crisis five years from now.

The other level this makes sense on is an economic development one. Regardless of your liking for the American health care system, it's a growth industry, especially here. While the region maintains too many hospital beds, Kaleida, the Catholic Health System and Erie County Medical Center employ more than 20,000 people in good jobs and had collective 2004 revenues exceeding $1.67 billion. The chiefs of these two institutions -- Kaleida CEO James R. Kaskie and ECC President William J. Mariani -- deserve credit for solving problems, developing the economy and creatively leading their organizations.

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