Roswell Park Cancer Institute is fundamentally important to Western New York. It is an anchor of our health care system, a major employer and, as one of only 41 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, a source of pride.

The center is now facing a grave threat from proposed cuts in aid from Albany and Washington.

Roswell Park’s challenges track those of its home city, Buffalo, which has also heavily relied on funding from Albany and Washington. Buffalo got a control board and Roswell Park got a threat: Become “operationally independent” by March 2014, when Albany will cut off state funding.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wisely backed off that deadline, but also maintained his insistence on reducing the amount of state aid for the hospital.

That approach is fundamentally wrong. Cuomo has made improving the Western New York economy one of his priorities with programs such as the Buffalo Billion. We’re grateful for that, but why spend all that money to attract jobs while simultaneously leaving an established player in the local economy gasping for breath?

Rather than compromise Roswell Park’s mission, the state should be working to bolster it, at least for the next several years while the institution builds new funding sources. The financial uncertainty makes it difficult for Roswell Park to attract the rock star scientists whose cutting-edge research leads to major grants and lucrative patents.

No one should think finding more money for Roswell Park will be easy.

Not only is the nation still recovering from the Great Recession, but health care funding is also under the gun in Washington, where the mindless policy of sequestration threatens Roswell Park with the loss of $6 million. That is in addition to the $103 million that comes from Albany, equal to 16.5 percent of the hospital’s annual operating budget.

Critics of state aid say Roswell Park relied so heavily on such funding that it wasn’t creative in its management, both internally and in its efforts to partner with external businesses. Under increasing pressure from Albany, Roswell Park has begun to make strides, and needs to make more, including a major effort to bolster its anemic endowment.

The hospital contracted with Navigant Consulting Group to explore the institute’s options. Preliminary findings have not been made public, but they generally fall into two categories: finding efficiencies, such as reducing personnel costs and waiting times for service, and looking beyond Western New York for new patients. Navigant has also encouraged Roswell Park to form partnerships with doctor groups. A second contract, meant to put the findings into practice, has been canceled by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli over concerns about its cost and lack of solid performance benchmarks.

If anything, Roswell Park has become more important to the Western New York economy as Buffalo’s health care sector has expanded. The hospital sits at the heart of the burgeoning Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and is a key player, along with Buffalo General Hospital, the Gates Vascular Institute and, before long, the University at Buffalo Medical School and the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital, which will succeed Women and Children’s Hospital on Bryant Street.

As Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, observed in The Buffalo News, “We can’t undermine the strength of that institution, because it holds so much potential for future economic growth.” Higgins supports increased federal spending for cancer research, such as occurs at Roswell Park. For example, the hospital has invested heavily in cancer vaccine research, including a facility to produce experimental vaccines.

Roswell Park is a designated “comprehensive cancer center,” which means that it meets all three standards established by the National Cancer Institute for cancer prevention, medical services and research. Reductions in funding could jeopardize that rating.

If Roswell Park doesn’t match hospitals like Memorial Sloan-Kettering for renown, it is still a big player here, employing more than 3,000 and providing area residents with access to the latest therapies.

As much as it may need to be encouraged to change its business model and become more self-reliant, the fact is it will always require – and deserve – government funding.

The community rallied to the cause last year when the state tried to slash funding. Now we need to change the conversation and urge the state to make a commitment to Roswell Park, one that guarantees the future of a vital institution.