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A better approach; State acknowledges reality in dropping threat to cut off funding to Roswell Park

Everybody exhale. Albany has backed off its unreasonable two-year deadline for Roswell Park Cancer Institute to become independent. That was an essential move, not only for the hospital but for anyone who wants to believe that state government operates in the real world.

Still, it took strong support from members of the Western New York legislative delegation, who understood the institute's successes and who effectively communicated that message to Albany leaders, along with broad support from community leaders. That hard work must continue.

But the state's goal remains clear and worthwhile. Roswell Park must devise a plan to enter into new joint business dealings with other health, academic and for-profit ventures by January 2014, although the institute would not have to implement the plan by then. More critically, no specific cut-off of state aid is threatened, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo originally proposed.

Officials at Roswell Park are rightly intent on maintaining the strength of the hospital and its competitiveness with the nation's 40 other comprehensive cancer centers. That is critical if the hospital is to recruit first-rate scientists and clinical investigators. But strengthening its business model so the hospital can compete effectively will take time and careful thought. And eventually, independence.

For a variety of reasons, hospital officials are extremely interested in developing such an approach, not the least of which has to do with stabilizing its funding. Albany, especially in recent years, has been an unreliable source of dollars.

Indeed, such fluctuations in funding make it difficult to plan and develop programs until right before the fiscal year begins. Becoming more independent of state funding will allow the institute to plan more thoughtfully and develop more strategically and robustly. And while Roswell Park officials are anxious to work with the state to become less dependent on state funding, much of the responsibility for that is in the state's hands.

A substantial amount of the resources received from the state is used to defray excess costs brought on by its state affiliation, including debt service on state-owned buildings and other costs associated with the institute's labor model. All these variables will have to be addressed in order to be competitive with other major cancer centers around the country.

This is a shared responsibility that over the next 20 months, state and hospital leaders must resolve.

The journey to excellence and international visibility is long. Western New York has a real gem in Roswell Park now and no one wants to do anything to weaken the strength of the institute while the region builds a broad academic medical center in Buffalo. This is important work. That means it has to be done carefully and right.