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Judge grants Mattina Center reprieve; Unions win temporary injunction to prevent Kaleida from closing health facility

The unions representing workers at the Mattina Community Health Center have won a temporary injunction to stop Kaleida Health from closing or transferring operation of the facility on Niagara Street.

The action means that before the hospital system can move forward with its plans for the center, a judge must rule on a grievance filed by the three unions, said John E. Klein, president of Local 1168, Communication Workers of America.

The two other unions are the Service Employees International Union and International Union of Operating Engineers.

The unions announced that Kaleida Health was served with the injunction on Friday after State Supreme Court Judge Timothy Drury issued the temporary injunction on Thursday.

"We feel that what Kaleida Health is doing is fundamentally wrong. It's the latest in a long list of closures of services that are important to many residents in need of affordable care," said Klein.

The Mattina Center opened in 2000 at the former site of Columbus Hospital, which Buffalo General Hospital took over in 1995 before it merged in 1998 with four other hospitals to form Kaleida Health.

The center serves about 12,000 patients, including many from the surrounding Lower West Side neighborhood, and many of its key medical staff members have devoted their careers to working at the facility.

Kaleida Health recently announced the closure, which is scheduled for Aug. 1. The hospital system also reported that it is in negotiations to lease the building to the Northwest Buffalo Community Health Center, one of two federally qualified health centers in Buffalo.

Federally qualified health centers receive financial help from the government in exchange for providing fairly comprehensive basic medical services regardless of a patient's ability to pay.

At the time of the closure announcement, Kaleida Health officials said that the Mattina center loses money, and that state budget cuts and decreases in reimbursement made the facility increasingly difficult to operate.

A Kaleida Health spokesman criticized the unions for the legal move and said the hospital system had not received notice of the injunction as of late Friday afternoon.

"It's unfortunate that the unions are trying to stop what we believe is a solution for the West Side," said Michael Hughes, referring to efforts to lease the building to the Northwest center.

If Northwest takes over, current employees of the Mattina center would likely shift to other duties within Kaleida Health but then displace less-senior workers to other jobs, union officials said.

The union grievance involves a contractual successorship clause with Kaleida Health that calls for a new owner of a facility, if it's sold, to keep the employees and their contract until a new agreement is reached, said Klein.

e-mail: hdavis@buffnews.com

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