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Niagara Falls Community Report: A Bellwether Call for Action

By Joseph Ruffolo

I applaud the Niagara Gazette for publishing the first of a series of stories on poverty in Niagara Falls.

Headlined "HARD TIMES," this news story serves as a bellwether for a call for action. This report illustrates how the prolonged economic crisis has devastated our great City of Niagara Falls, creating a culture of poverty and causing a wide range of human service needs. The news report was based on research prepared by the University at Buffalo Regional Institute with the support of The John R. Oishei Foundation.

Once known as the "Honeymoon Capital of the World," Niagara Falls has fallen victim to several alarming indicators and trends. Nearly one out of every two people in Niagara Falls is living near or below the poverty level and one-third of the City's at-risk population is unemployed.

Teen pregnancy rates in Niagara Falls are the second highest across Western New York's eight counties. More than half of all rental units are substandard and about 15 percent of our most vulnerable citizens have urgent concerns for food. Twenty percent of City residents do not own an automobile.

The list of poverty-related issues goes on and on.

Our community has a choice. We can keep talking about all that ails us. Or, we can stand up and make a difference.

Back in 2009, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center did its own study on the health needs of the Niagara community. Our findings prompted our institution to stand up and make a difference. Our research caused us to travel a new pathway. The community- based data we formulated guided our strategic efforts to transform Memorial from a traditional safety net hospital to a Center for Community Health and Wellness.

Memorial's transformation journey has been arduous, but it is one that has permitted Memorial to score many victories for the Niagara community. Our work is helping to steer Niagara Falls in a new direction.

We have gone after virtually every available grant to bring state and federal dollars to Niagara Falls to fund programs that will create a healthier community. The nearly $10 million in grants that Memorial has brought to our community over the past four years have funded 36 well paying permanent jobs, creating new career opportunities in emerging healthcare professions ranging from navigators and care managers to care coordinators. Moreover, the infusion of state and federal funds has permitted Memorial to:

Develop the Niagara Wellness Connection Center, the first and only facility of its kind in Western New York to offer one-stop outpatient behavioral health, primary care, wellness activities and community-based social support services under one roof;

Administer the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center Health Home, an innovative care coordination effort that is connecting 1,000 local residents to healthcare, food, shelter and a variety of support services, just in the past year alone;

Establish Project Runway, which is serving young women with or at-risk of drug or alcohol addictions;

Bring the Community Health Worker program's home-based services to pregnant women and new moms, helping them and their infants to stay healthy.

Connect more than 750 people to health insurance through Memorial's Navigation program within the last six months.

In addition, over the last four years grant funds have financed almost $6 million in new medical equipment, health technologies and facility improvements that are strengthening the services we provide to our community.

In fact, over the last decade, Niagara Falls Memorial has invested $62 million to improve our infrastructure so that we can better serve our patients and deliver top-notch, high quality care. The medical center built the ER1/Heart Center, completed exterior beautification projects, refurbished our Labor and Delivery unit, reconstructed two behavioral health units and renovated a medical-surgical patient care unit to mention but a few capital projects. These investments have served as an economic engine, generating hundreds of jobs for family breadwinners who are employed by the building trades or by local suppliers of goods and services.

Every person in Niagara Falls can make a difference. Here are just a few ways you can help. If you or someone you know needs to be connected to care, call the Niagara Health Home at 278-4647. If you have an extra hour or two to spare, call 278-4440 to volunteer at Niagara Falls Memorial.

If a loved one suffers from depression, anxiety or grief, help them by the calling the Wellness Connection Center at 278-4541. Or, if you need help finding health insurance, call Memorial's Navigation program at 278-4264.

Niagara Falls Memorial joins the Gazette in issuing a loud and clear call for action to the Niagara community. Join us. Help us. Together we will make a difference.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Mar 11, 2014