By Karen Blake

Wouldn’t it be great if Gov. Andrew Cuomo and assorted billionaires would have the same concern and commitment to other local entities as they have for the Buffalo Bills?

Recent Buffalo News articles detail financial difficulties and possible closings of area rural hospitals and nursing homes (Lake Shore Hospital in Irving, Brooks Memorial Hospital in Dunkirk, Eastern Niagara Hospital in Newfane, etc.) and related health services, which would result in the loss of thousands of good jobs, 500 of them at Lake Shore alone.

This will have a devastating effect on the economy and quality of life in surrounding communities of Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Erie counties.  Not to mention the very real possibility of the loss of life if the closing of a hospital means it will take a lot longer to get to an emergency room, especially during winter weather, if suffering a heart attack or stroke.

Additionally, the announced closings by ConAgra Foods of its recently acquired food manufacturing companies in the Dunkirk-Fredonia area will affect hundreds of jobs there and in local agriculture.

As our health care changes and evolves, as baby boomers age and require more and more convenient access to a variety of health services, we need to assess and understand the real value to the entire region of these essential health care facilities.

We need to keep these facilities open and functioning as important assets to the community. One way would be to designate hospitals, nursing homes and other health care assets as “public service” facilities utilizing government or other funding, or to subsidize them in some way, rather than relying on fees collected from patients.

We need to put as much effort into keeping thousands of existing jobs as we do in creating new jobs – noting the great amount of money being spent in Buffalo’s redevelopment areas and the new Medical Corridor.

To be creative, could investments in essential rural health services be structured as tax writeoffs?  Or could a consortium or individual benefactors consider “adopting” a hospital and making a commitment to our sometimes seemingly forgotten rural communities?

Surely, people’s health and the economic health of our communities are also important and necessary to the future of Western New York as well as New York State – perhaps even as much as a new taxpayer-built football stadium for the Buffalo Bills?

Karen Blake is a former Cattaraugus County legislator representing the Towns of Perrysburg and Dayton, an area previously hurt by the closing of Tri-County Hospital in Gowanda.