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Protect Roswell Park Proposed cuts to cancer hospital too severe, even in financial crisis

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he understands the need to rescue upstate New York from economic crisis. He doesn't have to look for new initiatives.

Buffalo doesn't have many leading industries that are growing, have a standard of excellence and find snow no deterrent to getting new customers.

We refer to Roswell Park Cancer Institute. It measures up on all those criteria and is the reason that a 30 percent cut to the hospital remains not just mystifying, but destructive.

State budget cuts are inevitable this year. Leaders at Roswell Park understand that. Health care -- one of the two biggest components of each year's budget -- is going to take a big hit. They know that, too, at Roswell Park.

What they didn't expect -- and what isn't sustainable -- is the kind of evisceration that is pending for Roswell Park, one of the nation's top cancer hospitals.

The health conference committee, which is still at work, is examining Cuomo's proposed elimination of an annual $25 million capital funding grant provided under the HEAL-NY program. That funding has been a significant revenue source for Roswell Park. The executive budget eliminated the HEAL-NY funding, the Senate put it back in its one-house resolution and the Assembly took no action on it. In addition, the governor is imposing a 10 percent cut in a $78 million funding stream that helps to fund the hospital's mission. Thus, the total cut is a staggering $32.8 million.

There is a solution. Other hospitals have received HEAL-NY awards for projects that have not come to fruition. The governor and Legislature should reallocate unspent HEAL-NY dollars to Roswell Park.

It's not as if the institute isn't accustomed to challenges. It recovered from a state disinvestment during the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1999, it became a public benefit corporation and after that achieved several milestones, including its arrival on the U.S. News list of best cancer hospitals.

The proposed funding from New York State for fiscal year 2011-12 is the lowest since Roswell Park became a public benefit corporation.

It's an ironic cut, since Cuomo talks about programs that work and Roswell Park is already there. The institute earns $4 for every dollar that the state invests, whether through research grants or clinical revenues.

Besides delivering top-notch clinical care, Roswell Park treats patients from around the state and country and the research side is enhancing economic development. The institute creates new companies, attracts new investments in these companies and, thus, creates jobs.

The governor and Legislature need to understand that such a large cut to the institute would mean the trajectory of growth would stop.

Roswell Park's growth plan would be shredded. Instead of developing clinical operations to produce new revenues that would be reinvested into operations, the institute would be plugging holes that the state had created. Basically, it would stand still.

Roswell Park had expected some fiscal surgery, but it is threatened with disembowelment. There's still a chance to avoid that threat, but Cuomo and the Legislature must act.

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