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Two walking to save their hospitals Journey will take workers to Albany

A journey of approximately 320 miles begins Tuesday at DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda for two health care workers walking to Albany to draw attention to a plan to close or merge hospitals.

One of the walkers, Pat Sullivan, works in patient reception and registration in DeGraff's radiology department. The hospital would be turned into a long-term care facility under the plan of the state Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century.

Tuesday's destination is Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo, where the other walker, Dawn Mele, is an anatomic pathology assistant. The commission report recommends closing that facility.

The women are members of the executive board of Local 1168, Communications Workers of America, which represents many health care workers.

The commission's recommendations automatically become law unless the state Senate and Assembly kill the entire report by year's end -- Sunday night. But earlier this month, lawmakers started talking about modifying or improving the plan next year.

"A lot of this is just to keep it on the front burner," John Klein, president of the CWA local, said Thursday. "Part of the reason we wanted to do [the walk], these are the communities, these are the people that are affected."

"They didn't have a say," Klein continued. "We are going to meet the people [the commission] chose not to listen to."

The cross-state trek will cover up to 15 miles a day, weather permitting, during the course of 20 days. Along the way, the walkers will visit facilities and communities affected by the commission's plan.

CWA officials hope to meet with lawmakers, including incoming Gov. Eliot Spitzer, when they reach Albany.

Locally, the walkers will pass by Buffalo General Hospital en route to stops at Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo and St. Joseph Hospital in Cheektowaga. The commission recommends closing St. Joseph and closing either ECMC or Buffalo General Hospital if they don't merge.

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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