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Hospital merger incentives urged

County Executive Joel A. Giambra, one of the only local politicians pushing for hospital closings and mergers, wants to put $15 million on the table to encourage a merger of Erie County Medical Center and Kaleida Health.

Giambra said the money, which would have to be borrowed next year, could be used to reform employee contracts, erase debt, demolish old hospital buildings or pay for any other need that comes from a merger of the two organizations.

"The most important issue facing this community is not whether Bass Pro will come here in 30 days, it's how we're going to overhaul our local health care system," he said Thursday.

It is not clear if Giambra's idea, which would require the approval of county lawmakers and the county's control board, has support beyond the 16th floor of County Hall.

His proposal is to use money once earmarked for work-rule changes and other union contract changes at ECMC. That pool of money, also $15 million, may have disappeared with the Dec. 15 deadline for action by the hospital.

County Attorney Laurence K. Rubin stressed the loss of that county funding in a letter to ECMC's lawyers this week. Rubin said the hospital lost the money because it failed to reach agreement with its nurses union.

"We have to stop the arms race," Giambra said Thursday. "That $15 million should be put back on the table, but used to facilitate a merger of ECMC and Kaleida."

Kaleida Health, which includes Buffalo General and Millard Fillmore hospitals, would consider the proposal, according to a spokesman for the hospital system.

"It appears that the county executive is trying to be helpful in this public-private health care issue," said Kaleida spokesman Michael Hughes. "Judging from recent actions, you can surmise that he's trying to be an honest broker between the two organizations."

A representative of ECMC could not be reached to comment.

News Medical Reporter Henry L. Davis contributed to this report.

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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