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Kaleida Health CEO hails Western New York’s resurgence

The region is poised for a resurgence and Buffalonians should expect, not be surprised by, the progress that’s taking place here, the head of the area’s largest health care system told a gathering of business leaders Wednesday night.

Jody L. Lomeo, president and chief executive officer of Kaleida Health, said the hospital network will do its part to deliver high-quality medical services, invest in Buffalo and be accountable to the community it serves.

“I believe the good old days are ahead of us,” Lomeo said to the more than 300 people who attended The Buffalo News’ Prospectus Premiere event.

Lomeo, who also outlined the steps Kaleida Health has taken over the past year to improve its performance and its financial outlook, spoke at the 11th annual Prospectus gathering held in Salvatore’s Italian Gardens in Lancaster.

The event celebrated the launch of this year’s Prospectus, an annual supplement produced by The News that previews the year ahead for the local business community. The 2015 edition will be included in Sunday’s newspaper and posted to The News’ website.

Lomeo also is president and chief executive officer of the Great Lakes Health System, Kaleida Health’s parent organization. He took over the institutions on an interim basis one year ago and received the permanent appointments in April.

Kaleida Health is the region’s largest private employer and its largest health care system, with about 10,000 workers at Buffalo General Medical Center, Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital and its other facilities.

Lomeo said the hospital system is proud to be part of what he considers the region’s ongoing renaissance.

He said Buffalonians for too long had a “woe-is-us” attitude and an unhelpful focus on seeking blame for their shortcomings.

“For too long, we were our own worst enemies. For too long we were envious of other communities,” Lomeo said.

Lomeo pointed to the recent hiring of the new Buffalo Bills coach, Rex Ryan, who vowed a return to the playoffs after a 15-year absence for the team. He wondered why anyone wouldn’t welcome Ryan’s brash confidence.

The region’s defeatist attitude is changing, he said, as residents can see construction cranes and buildings rising downtown, along the waterfront and on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

“The broken promises of the past are over,” he said.

That same poor attitude infected the health care sector, Lomeo said, as patients and employees assumed top-level care could be found only at the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic or other out-of-town sites. That’s not true today, he said.

“Western New York rivals anywhere in the country in terms of health care,” he said.

Kaleida Health is doing its part to contribute to this regional revival, Lomeo said, pointing to the opening of the Gates Vascular Institute and the construction of the new, $270 million Oishei Children’s Hospital that will open on the Medical Campus in 2017.

He said it is crucial for health care providers in this region to work together where possible and to avoid unhealthy competition. He pointed to Great Lakes Health, which includes Kaleida Health, Erie County Medical Center and the University at Buffalo, and the Medical Campus as examples of productive collaboration.

Lomeo said Kaleida understands it will be judged on results. Describing himself as the system’s least-important employee, he said he has worked over the past year to repair relationships with staff, to demonstrate their opinion is valued and to emphasize the central importance of the patient.

Financial and regulatory changes included in the federal Affordable Care Act, as well as a shift in the delivery of health care from the hospital to outpatient facilities, have challenged Kaleida Health and other hospital systems.

Kaleida lost $15.3 million on $1.26 billion in revenue in 2013. The system has not released its audited 2014 financial statements, but Lomeo said Wednesday night that Kaleida Health made about $15 million last year, representing a $30 million turnaround.

“But we’re nowhere near where we need to be,” he said.