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Health care 'reform' hits rural areas hardest

Things do not look good for TLC Health Network. The Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century recently recommended taking away its acute care inpatient beds. This will create a domino effect that will ultimately lead to closure.

Of course, it doesn't make any sense. "Right-sizing" to save money and improve services in this case will cost more money and destroy services. Some 900 people will lose their jobs, and people who could access health care services close to home will be forced to travel an hour and then wait more hours to be cared for in city facilities.

TLC Health Network is the result of a merger between two rural hospitals - Lake Shore Hospital in Irving and Tri-County Memorial Hospital in Gowanda. It serves thousands of patients in southern Erie and portions of Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties. I have worked at both facilities, most recently at Lake Shore, where I served for 12 years as director of community relations and development.

During that time I watched administration and staff adapt and change, do more with less, and always remember the unique needs of the rural population they served. They work hard to deliver a broad range of services that are convenient and easily accessible. The acute inpatient services are complemented by a large skilled nursing facility, long-term home health care program (Nursing Home Without Walls), outpatient services, rehabilitation program, inpatient mental health, inpatient and outpatient chemical dependency services, child and adult day care, and much, much more.

As most of the television and press coverage goes to the impact of the commission's recommendations on health care facilities in Buffalo and its first-ring suburbs, I feel a growing sense of fear and anger over what will happen if our rural area loses TLC Health Network.

When ambulances from the rural communities served by TLC are backed up in front of emergency departments at the remaining Buffalo hospitals, will someone be there to ask the questions and dig for answers? For now, I wonder where the cameras are to tell our stories? Who will carry the message of our community's large elderly population? Who will document the impact on ambulance drivers, EMTs and other first responders? How many physicians will leave a community already designated as a "health manpower shortage area" by the federal government?

How many lives will be lost because precious time was lost in travel? Who will count the dollars spent and wasted? Who will measure the economic and human repercussions of 900 lost jobs? And finally, who will be held accountable for setting this devastating chain of events into motion?

The loss of health care in one rural community may seem inconsequential when compared to the tragedies taking place in our world on a daily basis. But tragedies come in all sizes. For each individual negatively affected by this event, it's personal and it's important.

Elizabeth Accordino lives in Perrysburg.

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