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Extend the deadline ; Feds need to give state more time to complete health care projects

We would like to add our collective voice to last week's letter from our state's congressional delegation to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

The request is simple: Extend a program that grants federal aid for health care projects. And do it well before the March 31 deadline your agency has to decide whether to grant an extension.

Due to various reasons, tens of millions of dollars in federal aid for everything from hospital consolidation to health information technology are at risk because they cannot be completed before a Sept. 30 deadline.

That's upward of $47 million that is at risk at Kaleida Health systems, including $32.1 million for a planned move of essential services from Millard Fillmore Hospital at Gates Circle to Buffalo General Hospital at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

The much hoped-for streamlining of electronic medical records under HEALTHeLINK also is at risk, despite the awarding of grants by the state, which allocates federal funds for the health care reform projects. The HEALTHe-LINK projects are planned to take two years to complete.

Getting such projects off the ground is complicated and time-consuming. It's an accomplishment to get some medical staff accustomed to the change and a heavy lift in getting new systems in place. And that doesn't even include gathering all of the patient consent forms.

Western New York cannot afford to turn back the clock on important steps designed to create a better health care system. Indeed, no region of the state can afford such a delay.

Kudos to the state's congressional delegation, which has begun a bipartisan push to get the Department of Health and Human Services to provide New York three more years to spend the federal funds -- originally awarded to the state in 2006. But the delegation will have to push hard against a system that allowed those project delays.

Call it federal foot-dragging or whatever. The result would be a loss of hundreds of jobs in the construction and health sectors, in addition to losing sight of quality health care that would produce better outcomes for patients.

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