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Town leaders try to rally support to save DeGraff emergency room

WHEATFIELD -- Supervisor Timothy E. Demler is trying to drum up support to keep open the emergency room at DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda.

Demler had the Town Board pass a resolution this week urging state officials to reconsider closing the emergency room.

The request was made to Gov. George E. Pataki and Gov.-elect Eliot L. Spitzer. Demler also is sending copies to all local mayors and supervisors, as well as state and federal officials who represent North Tonawanda and Wheatfield.

Late last month, the state Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century recommended converting DeGraff from an acute care hospital to a long-term care facility, as part of a sweeping set of health care reforms across the state.

The commission plan promises to reorganize the region's hospital system to improve quality, control rising costs and recruit new physicians. Its recommendations will become law unless both houses of the State Legislature reject them in their entirety by Jan. 1, which now appears highly unlikely.

Wheatfield officials maintain the DeGraff recommendation could affect the lives and safety of local residents, and failed to consider numerous factors or input from the community, Demler said.

If the facility closed, residents in Wheatfield, North Tonawanda, Pendleton and the Tonawandas would have to travel farther for emergency care, he said.

"[The commission] never talked to any of the locals," Demler said, adding that they didn't consider upcoming projects or future plans. "The immediate health care of our residents is seriously at risk."

The emergency room is "an intricate part of the community that is less than 10 miles away," he said. "More than 150,000 people depend on that 5- to 10-minute ride. Once it closes, ambulances will have to go to hospitals in Lewiston or Kenmore [and] that would take 20 to 30 minutes."

He said the commission failed to look at the residential growth in Wheatfield, and include the emergency medical needs of future projects such as the Oz theme park proposed for the town, expansion at Niagara Falls International Airport and plans to build a Wal-Mart supercenter in North Tonawanda.

"They're actually taking a major part of our health care system away from our residents without considering everything," he said.

Coming Sunday in Niagara Weekend: North Tonawanda residents and DeGraff staff fight to keep the hospital.

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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