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Hope for health facility Workers, new owner reach a deal to keep threatened nursing home open

Today's harsh fiscal realities are battering all sides of the health care industry, and among the most threatened are facilities such as the Waterfront Health Care Center on Buffalo's West Side.

A recent Buffalo News article said that the center, threatened with closing earlier this year, will remain open under an agreement between workers and a new operator. Despite the new agreement, the economic viability of such facilities remains in question.

In this case, the 120-bed long-term care facility that had been part of the Kaleida Health System will be operated by Specialty Care Group. That will allow the center, which workers say is the last nursing home on the West Side and the only bilingual facility in the area, to remain open.

Without it, the low-income residents would have to move to another facility and the neighborhood would lose one more anchor.

The twin culprits here -- rising costs and reduced Medicaid reimbursements -- are problems everywhere. Waterfront says it has lost more than $1.3 million in the past three years because the state reduced Medicaid reimbursement rates. And that loss is despite its high occupancy rate.

Kaleida announced plans to close Waterfront in 2009. But in the face of resistance from employees, members of the community and religious groups, Kaleida kept the facility open while searching for a new operator. New York City-based Specialty Care Group agreed to take control of the facility, if workers would agree to wage and benefit cuts. It's no surprise that the nearly 200 workers represented by the 1199 Service Employees International Union rejected that proposal.

Both sides did some together enough in late July to agree to send the dispute to arbitration; a decision is expected soon.

This dispute raises the issue of the future of other medical facilities serving the poor. These health centers rely on payments from Medicare and Medicaid to cover their costs. Those reimbursements are being cut in response to budget problems. The cuts may be good for government, but they reduce medical care for the poor by leaving providers unable to pay their bills.

The hard-working professionals at Waterfront want to keep the facility open and available to West Side residents. We wish them luck.

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