The Torch Has Now Been Passed To Our Generation

We hope Governor Pataki does not allow his legacy to become the hasty closing of many facilities desperately needed by some of his most loyally supportive communities. As rural communities with geographic disparity, and an aging population, these recommendations could not be more wrong-headed, ill-advised, and destructive to some of the area's most vulnerable citizens. Anyone who claims to care for the elderly and young alike, couldn't allow the untimely near closing of the only hospitals and emergency care availability for so many miles within reach ... miles which could distinguish between survival and death. Without a doubt, the Berger Commission Report on Health Care Facilities is seriously marred with a lack of understanding of LOCAL geographical conditions, people needs and human trauma. As we see it, the Report is flawed with informational deprivation, insidious planning and further, it is devoid of wise judgment, prudent management and solid decision making. It is an example of long range strategic planning at its worst. It presents a flagrant lack of understanding of the desperate rural health care needs of an aging population and of a growing need for continued up-to-date expanded health care facilities in this area. How could any serious analyst consider the near closing of the only facilities within miles to reach for so many people? And these many are often the most in need of care, our elderly and our children. How could a serious panel make such profoundly wrong judgments?

The Report contains recommendations which clearly affect access to health care and the well being of every man, woman and child in this area. We are shocked with its recommended changes. Specifically, we condemn the implementation with respect to those recommendations which impact the TLC Health Network (Tri-County Hospital in Gowanda and the Lake Shore Hospital in Irving), Bertrand Chaffee Hospital in Springville, Westfield Memorial Hospital in Westfield, and Brooks Hospital in Dunkirk. All of these ARE strategic and outstanding health care facilities and they provide vital heath care for a sizable geographic population. The medical services at these facilities must be sustained and any form of discontinuance of these vital services would be indeed a medical travesty for the people of this area. The ability to provide care for short term trauma would be so severely compromised that many localities would find it necessary to end Ambulance care, as so many cases would be forced into Buffalo for care. Because Buffalo is so many miles away for so many, stabilization may be impossible.

Through the years, this region has provided health facilities of excellence, meeting the needs of local residents and workers of all ages. Further, the emergency health needs of those individuals traveling through the vast regions of the southern tier have been provided by these facilities. Many have spoken of the outstanding quality hospital services which were immediately available and provided by a most competent, dedicated and caring staff. These staff were within geographic distances where a patient could be stabilized, treated or transferred with efficiency, and this practice has saved many valuable lives. One can document the lives which have been spared and the trauma which has been treated because of the availability of superior services and quality facilities. Your columnists can personally attest to this fact.

What we call for is the reinforcement and continuation of the essential components of hospital services at these facilities. Our people need to be reassured that the emergency rooms, the outpatient and in-patient services will continue to be provided. That the laboratory faculties and radiology centers will remain in tact and appropriate and essential therapeutics will be readily available. A dependent vast rural and semi-urban population of people is reliant on the continued viability of these professional services and units. To deplete much of this health care viability is totally unconscionable. The distance alone will become a death-sentence for many of our friends and neighbors.

There were earlier generations of citizens in these western New York regions of Springville, Gowanda, Dunkirk, Irving, and Westfield who recognized this significant necessity and they sacrificed much to make our facilities become a reality. By doing so, they planned for the well being of future generations, and that is our generation now to be specific. They were indeed WISE and DEDICATED planners! They scrimped and saved, sacrificed and worked to bring to these areas the fine health care facilities and hospitals we have. The torch has now been passed to our generation; it is our turn to shoulder the responsibility. WE can do no less!

Interestingly, all of our local hospitals have been generating strategic plans to meet the needs of our current local health care facilities. Point in fact, Tri-County and Lake Shore Hospitals (now TLC) back in January 2002 had the foresight to "rightsize" health care in light of emerging needs. We applaud their creative and innovative planning. Again, for example, the TLC Health Network and Bertrand Chaffee Hospital were looking at cooperative services arrangements and Westfield Memorial and St. Vincent Health Care System were doing likewise. Brooks Hospital also made appropriate plans. We ask if these plans developed locally were even considered in the development of the State approved Berger Commission Report. Or, was that just as the saying goes "so much for LOCAL planning." Its our understanding that the input, the consultations, and considerations of those who are most aware of the needs were completely omitted. To accept these hasty, ill-timed decisions would be a tragic end to our Governor's service. Inaction by our legislature would be a profound loss, and the silence of all other political leaders an endorsement. We must implore every official to speak out and to take decisive turnaround action.

We have not in this column even begun to identify the catastrophic impact on the economy of this total region if the recommendations of the Report were to be implemented. Hundreds upon hundreds of folks would become unemployed. This, along with other factors, would be financially devastating to the area and would be a minus factor to the economic viability of the total region. We encourage everyone to call Assemblymen Giglio, Quinn and Parment to ensure wise action in the Legislature; we advise the same for Senators Young and Volker, and to tell Governor Pataki to save our hospitals and his reputation in Western New York by doing the right and necessary thing. We must also encourage Senators Schumer and Clinton to fight the good fight for an area which desperately needs their assistance and leadership. Include Congressmen Kuhl and Higgins to use their sway to preserve our vital facilities and services.

Through the years, we have had fine health care facilities in our regional areas. Many of us, our families and friends past and present, have found it necessary to avail ourselves of these outstanding essential health care facilities and services. In fact, people of all ages that live, work, and travel through these areas expect and depend on quality health care and availability. Our hospitals are an essential necessity for these regions. Let it be said, that THIS generation recognized its duty. That it provided well for the health care needs of those who now and will in the future live, work and travel these hills and lakes plains. Of all government funds which are spent, none have a higher return in human good. Now that the torch has been passed, it is our turn to act with virtue and determination. We can do no less than what previous generations have done so heroically before us. That is how we see it FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE.