Niagara Gazette

November 4, 2012

LEADERSHIP CHRONICLES: Buffalo Niagara Medical campus evolved from cooperation

Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Many years ago, a small group of Western New York leaders, each from a powerful organization, gathered together to try to create the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in a desolate area of the city’s East Side, on the north edge of downtown.

The effort, despite the good intentions of many, failed. According to someone who was there at the time, none of the leaders could be convinced to see beyond the interests of their own organizations. It wasn’t until they gave the effort another shot and figured out the blind-sided self interest that was blocking progress that the medical campus exploded into what appears to be an extraordinary collaboration that could change the city’s reputation, draw thousands into downtown Buffalo each day and create jobs and healing research and services that could save countless lives throughout the world.

That’s what I learned on my most recent Leadership Niagara outing, when my classmates and I participated in Health Day. The day started at the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center where we talked about the state of health care.

We had a talk from Congressman Brian Higgins and I raised my hand and asked him straight out to explain today’s health care issues so that I could understand them a little bit better. “Can you explain Obamacare and help me understand how health care will be impacted by the Democrats or the Republicans. I am so confused,” I said.

Higgins said I wasn’t the only one confused, and alluded to the fact that heated political exchange has muddied the waters.

“Health care reform has been tried by every administration for the last 100 years. It didn’t need a finish, it needed a start,” he said.

I didn’t feel particularly enlightened by the congressman’s response so, days later, as a result of that conversation I undertook a research project to better understand health care reform myself. (See my story on page 1C of today’s section.) But, like in all of our Leadership Niagara sessions, we had much more to cover.

Next, we had a thought provoking session with fitness guru Robbie Raugh, who is a local legend among those who have taken her classes at places like Bally Fitness. She regaled us with stories about what to eat and what not to eat. I may never look at wheat the same way again. Then she led us through a brief yoga exercise. Remember, my classmates and I are are of all ages and from all walks of life. She had us doing balancing poses like we were long time enthusiasts. I need to say here that Robbie rocks.

From there, we traveled to downtown Buffalo to explore the medical campus. It is a revelation, with new buildings and old combining to be a regional destination for medical care, competitive with some of the top destinations in the country.

We saw laboratories and research facilities, we saw futuristic buildings and machinery. Wearing dark 3-D glasses and looking like a reunion of Blues Brothers, we stood in a viewing room and got to see human cells in three dimensions, floating out into the room looking like you could reach out and grab them.

Most impressive was the new $291 million Gates Vascular Institue, which combines a hospital on the lower floors with university research facilities on the top floors and the nonprofit Jacobs Institute between them, the only facility of its type in the world. The work of the university and the hospital will be fortified by the institute, which provides funding and support to those seeking to discover new pathways of health science.

It’s all futuristic and remarkable and as we toured the new structure, I said my fair share of “wows.” The whole campus was like that and it stands to be even more impressive when they build the new Children’s Hospital across from Buffalo General.

The place is a marvel of collaboration, the result of the efforts of nine major WNY agencies working together, including Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care, Kaleida Health, the Olmstead Center for Sight, The Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center, the Buffalo Medical Group, Upstate NY Transplant Services, the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, University at Buffalo, as well as representatives from surrounding neighborhood groups, and Buffalo and Erie County governments.

Not to sound like a kindergarten teacher or anything, but it takes a lot of cooperation to make a world-class medical destination.

But, it’s happening. The place hums with the energy of potential, research, education, healing and overall prosperity. A living, evolving lesson on the benefits of creating an environment where people work together for the benefit of everyone. And more buildings are coming, including the new Children’s Hospital, Kaleida Health’s Global Vascular Institute and Kaleida’s long-term care facility.

The day evolved into hard evidence of what happens when leaders behave like leaders. Standing there in the heart of the campus, which just 30 years ago was a couple of hospitals in a downtrodden neighborhood rippled by tracts of poverty and vacant land, and I saw the unlimited potential for success. Seeing that happen in Buffalo, which has experienced the same frustrating fits and starts as Niagara Falls, made my heart feel hopeful.

Even better was a visit to Ulrich’s Restaurant afterwards, to bond with the leadership classmates and to savor, once again, the great German food I remember from my days as a copy kid at the Courier Express, which was right down the block.

In the heart of a metamorphosis unlike anything the area has ever seen, I saw that the best things remained to anchor the cutting edge changes with richness and tradition. Can’t help but want to raise a beer stein to that.

Contact Features Editor Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.