Erie County Medical Center is undergoing a $200 million transformation, with a new nursing home, advances in mental health and chemical dependency services, and a merger of Buffalo’s two kidney transplant centers.
Jody Lomeo, the hospital’s chief executive officer, sat down with The News’ Brian Meyer to discuss the recent changes. Here is a summary of issues in an interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series. Watch the full six-minute interview at BuffaloNews.com/video.
Meyer: Tell us what triggered this flurry of developments.
Lomeo: What really triggered it was back in 2008 when we signed our binding agreement with Kaleida Health to work under Great Lakes Health ... We decided at that point that we need to transform the organization – that we need to do things differently. ... And we did that. With that, we thought about things such as how do we collaborate better. How do we serve our community?
Meyer: It was a state commission that basically ordered two health Goliaths, ECMC and Kaleida, to work together with this new structure, and UB is also part of that. At that early stage, there were a lot of folks worried that you would see rivals picking apart key programs at ECMC. Has there been any fallout? Any downside?
Lomeo: I would tell you that it’s been nothing but a joy. We really enjoy working with our partners at Kaleida Health and the university. And what you see is really the tangible evidence of what collaboration looks like ... The evidence of noncollaboration is all around Western New York.
So, when you look at our two organizations – you mentioned the kidney center, which is about 30 years coming. People waited and waited. We were promised to have this center of excellence in transplantation and kidney care 27, 30 years ago from all accounts ... We didn’t do this in a back room where three men in a room or a bunch of suits [decided] this. We said this needs to be physician-led.
Meyer: The new nursing home that we’re talking about is replacing one that’s a distance from the Buffalo core.
Lomeo: Our nursing home is 16 miles away in Alden. And it’s served us well, and it served the community well. What we did in 2009 in our agreement with the county ... we wanted to move the nursing home from Alden to the campus here on Grider Street. It’s part of our greater vision and strategy of having a world-class health care campus right here on Grider Street.
So we’re in the process of doing that ... We’re hoping that in the coming days we’ll be having a press conference for a grand opening, and look forward to sometime in early February having the residents come from Alden ... Many of our residents are from the urban setting ... It’s really important that the residents see their families and are closer to the hospital itself. We were in the past spending upwards of $900,000 transporting [residents] to and from Alden.
Meyer: Let’s talk about the perception that many people have that the medical center is a [financial] drain on the county.
Lomeo: I would love for that perception to go away ... It’s just not the case. We no longer receive a subsidy from Erie County. ... The only [county] payments that come to ECMC are mandated, and that’s for the underinsured, the indigent and so on.
Meyer: Those are basically regulated by the state and federal governments. And the reason the county is kicking in is because we have a higher proportion of folks who are low-income patients?
Lomeo: Right. And we’re doing everything we can to lower that number in working with our county.
As you’ve seen in the past, even in the budget that was just passed by the county, we were very helpful in delaying payments and doing everything we can.
The last thing we want to do is anything that would hurt our county.