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ECMC moving forward Despite the high cost, the proposal for new county home makes sense

Even in hard times, it can pay to make big decisions. So it is with Erie County Medical Center's plan to build a modern nursing facility at its Grider Street campus and to close the Erie County Home in Alden. It's an expensive proposition, but with it, ECMC can better serve residents while eliminating nearly $1 million a year in transportation costs.

One of the keys to the plan's attractiveness is the ability of the county control board to borrow $98 million on the hospital's behalf. Because of its high credit rating, the board can borrow the money at 3.2 percent, less than half the 7 percent ECMC was expecting to pay. With that, the hospital can repay the loan in 15 years instead of 30, saving the county tens of millions of dollars in interest.

The need for a new home is plain. The county home in Alden, originally built in the 1920s, is outdated and expensive to operate. What is more, because the county home is far from the hospital, about $900,000 a year is spent transporting residents to ECMC for more serious medical care. That distance is also a burden on families of the residents, most of whom live far from the current facility.

The proposal calls for the new nursing facility to be connected by a corridor to the hospital, thus eliminating transportation costs. Moreover, it will provide an up-to-date environment for residents. Erie County has also committed to contribute $11.5 million to the project.

The new county home project is part of a larger, $160 million expansion of the ECMC campus that will also include a center for transplantation and kidney care and adjacent medical offices.

ECMC is quickly moving ahead as part of its association with Great Lakes Health, the superstructure corporation created three years ago to coordinate the work of ECMC and Kaleida Health. With that arrangement and the leadership of the hospital's chief executive, Jody Lomeo, ECMC has become a more powerful and focused organization.

It's always stressful to take on new debt, especially in a time of economic weakness, but this program appears to be both necessary and well-conceived. Erie County Executive Chris Collins supports the plan, which will also need the approval of the County Legislature. It will have to authorize a "declaration of need" that will allow the control board to borrow the money. We expect lawmakers to examine the plan closely and hope, barring any unforeseen problems, it will be approved quickly.

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