Monday, May 6, 2019

Hoping for a long life for Niagara County’s lifeline

During the first weekend of May in 1999 I had severe abdominal pain and chalked it up to food poisoning. 

I fought through it best I could – I moved into my home and played some softball that weekend, saying I wouldn’t let pain and bad food ruin my weekend.

Over the course of those two days it got worse and worse, and, without my knowing, my appendix exploded. Only after the poisons made their way through my body did I go to the ER. By then, it had caused potentially-fatal peritonitis. I needed emergency surgery and spent a week in hospital followed by weeks of recovery.

Now, every morning when I look in the mirror and see the large scar that travels vertically across my stomach I count my blessings. I was likely hours away from kicking the bucket but I was fortunate that Lockport Memorial Hospital and its people were there for me – Dr. Hodge was able to work his magic on my innards and the wonderful doctors, nurses and assistants made sure my stay was helpful and comfortable.

I’m forever indebted to those good people and the Hospital for saving my life.

Last week’s reflection on the twenty year anniversary of my second chance at life was countered by sadness for Eastern Niagara Hospital, the system that now runs that hospital and its satellite enterprises, for on that same day the news came out that ENH was on a path to further downsizing: They will be closing the Newfane dialysis center and radiology facility and shutting the doors at Newfane Express Care.

In the biggest shocker, ENH will be closing the maternity ward at Lockport – the same unit that brought me into the world, saw the birth of one of my sons, and nearly birthed our twins a few weeks ago (their premature delivery demanded a move, by ambulance, from Lockport to Oishei’s). 

It’s incredibly sad that the ward which created memories for literally tens of thousands of parents will become but a memory itself.

But, I know it’s a necessary move that reflects the reality of the world we live in – or more accurately, the state we live in.

If you’ve read this column for any length of time you know I fret quite often about the ongoing decline of Upstate New York. Decades of poor leadership from state officials have turned it into a sinking ship, with businesses, people and prosperity abandoning the woebegone region at unprecedented rates.

Not only is it something that keeps me up at night running a factory that serves clients from around the world, it also dominates my thoughts while serving as board president for two local non-profits that serve area residents.

Both of those non-profits have lost a significant number of potential clients, which reflects the shrinking and aging population of WNY. Because of that, we’ve instituted major changes, have plans in the works to transform those organizations to meet the changing demographics, and often ponder long-term nuclear options if the decline of the region happens at a rate even greater than what it has.

That is, quite likely, the same mess that ENH is in. Fewer area residents equal fewer patients which equals fewer revenues. On top of that, there’s the “use it or lose it” syndrome: 65% of area women from a population of potential child bearers that is 24% lower than it was 20 years ago choose facilities other than Lockport to have delivery.

So, changes are necessary to save the organization, changes that include downsizing or elimination of underutilized services to ensure more “popular” and universally necessary operations can continue in Lockport. Thousands of businesses and non-profits across Upstate have been making such decisions for years – and they will continue to.

I doubt any of this is comforting to those who need or have used ENH’s services or those who work hard to provide them.

I’m in that boat -- it especially pains me to think of the skilled and caring ladies in the maternity ward who will be out of a job. They’ve helped my family through some times that have been happy and scary.  

So, for their sake -- and all of ours -- let’s hope that what ENH is doing is exactly what the doctor ordered and that this critical lifeline for Eastern Niagara County lives on.

Lockport Memorial saved my life. It likely saved someone close to you.

If all goes according to plan it will save itself, too.

Let’s pray that it does.

From the 08 May 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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