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Roswell Park facing loss of $15.5 million in state aid

Roswell Park Cancer Institute, after three years of stable state support, now faces a potential decrease.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed state budget calls for giving the cancer center $87.1 million, down more than 15 percent from the $102.6 million it received in the three previous fiscal years.

The current state support accounts for more than 15 percent of the institute’s $663 million operating budget.

It’s unclear how the decrease, if approved, would affect medical services, cancer research or teaching programs.

Roswell Park officials offered a written statement in reaction to the budget.

“While New York State funding to Roswell Park Cancer Institute is a modest portion of the Institute’s overall budget, these are critical funds that primarily go back to the state in the form of payments for debt service on New York State-owned buildings and state workforce-related costs, in addition to supporting research and education. In light of these potential impacts, we are reviewing all the policy and funding proposals in the Executive Budget and assessing their implications,” said Candace S. Johnson.

Johnson, the cancer center director, is also serving as interim president and chief executive officer.

“We expect to work with the Division of Budget, the Western New York delegation, the Governor’s office and state legislative leaders, as well as community leaders, to communicate the impact of the $15 million cut and help them understand all the notable successes we have achieved and the substantial impact of our research and education enterprises,” she said.

The annual state subsidy is a recurring source of financial uncertainty at the cancer center.

Cuomo in 2012 proposed making the cancer center “operationally independent,” thus ending the support, an idea that was met with widespread concern locally. In a compromise, the state agreed to keep funding Roswell Park but required it to examine ways to increase revenue and improve efficiency.

Founded in 1898 as the nation’s first cancer hospital, Roswell Park entered the 1990s in a period of decline under state ownership.

The state built a new, 133-bed hospital and in 1999 converted Roswell Park into a public-benefit corporation, a shift that allowed flexibility in budgeting and pursuing new ways of doing business. But the construction saddled the hospital with debt while it still paid higher labor costs than other hospitals.

State support rose to a high of $118 million in fiscal years 2007 and 2008 and then dipped annually to $77.6 million in fiscal year 2012, before rising to $102.6 million.

Patients’ revenues have slowly increased at Roswell Park over the years, but officials have made the case that there is no quick fix for offsetting large decreases in state support.

The proposed budget arrives as work continues on Roswell Park’s new $50.5 million Clinical Sciences Center at Michigan Avenue and Carlton Street, and a search continues for a new president-chief executive officer for the institute.

email: hdavis@buffnews.com