What’s on your radar?

What is important to you? What makes you smile or your blood boil or run cold? What’s on your radar? Jobs? Politics?

How about your local school district or municipality’s financial situation? Are you concerned about what hospital you will be taken to should you become ill or have an accident? Does anyone in government have a plan that answers these concerns?

The political leaders will pontificate about what they will do if elected, and once in office they will blame the other party for keeping them from fulfilling their earlier promises. And the beat goes on.

On a local level, our school districts and municipalities continue to operate by relying on grants, and state aid. How about our local hospitals?

Lake Shore Hospital is in the throes of bankruptcy, and Brooks is struggling as well. This paper has repeatedly called for transparency from both of these hospital boards, and yet I haven’t seen it.

Look at Brooks. Over this past week we have seen three different reports in this paper. It was first reported that the hospital board was going to meet and vote on whether or not to return the hospital to local control, merge with Kaleida Hospital of Buffalo or remain associated with UPMC Hamot. According to the OBSERVER poll following that article the vote was in favor of discontinuing Brooks’ association with UPMC Hamot. And, then the Board met. However, the newspaper reporter was told that the meeting of the board was a business meeting and there was not going to be a vote. Now comes article number three. It seems the board did vote at the meeting after all. The board voted to continue the relationship between Brooks and UPMC Hamot.

I volunteer at Brooks. But I am also a concerned citizen and a taxpayer. Over the past several months, and most recently the past two weeks, doctors, nurses, managers and those in administrative and support positions have approached me. In every case these individuals have cited examples of what they consider to be unfair treatment and a lack of communication.

I had a doctor this past week tell me that he was “fed up” and “didn’t know how much longer he will be able to stay at Brooks.”

This is a sad situation. I met last week with two Brooks managers. I suggested that the rumors I had heard about Lake Shore and Brooks becoming urgent care facilities appeared to have some merit; the rumor was neither confirmed nor denied. Not knowing what is being considered allows one to arrive at one’s own conclusion, rightfully or wrongly. This idea brings with it fear and anxiety among the employees of Brooks as well as the patients and future patients.

We need transparency from those making the decisions for Brooks Hospital. While I was told that transparency was forthcoming and the employees would be communicated with openly and compassionately, the three different reports in this past week’s paper leave me wondering. Are we truly headed for one regional hospital that covers northern Chautauqua County?

A note to the Board of Directors, meeting behind closed doors with the press shut out is not transparency! The employees and community really can handle the truth. If consolidation and regionalism is the way to go, then let’s do it.

It is rare that I agree with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but when he created Regional Councils to develop long-term strategic plans for economic growth, I thought good job. Consolidation is not always a bad thing, especially when it comes to the many entities vying for the same dollar. If consolidation or regionalism is the way to go with hospitals, then what about our schools and municipalities?

We have 18 public school districts in our county alone, and there are 44 different cities, villages, and towns. Do we really need all of these school districts? Can’t some of the villages, towns and/or cities merge? Are we so stuck on protecting our turf that we can’t see what is happening? Our elected officials need to make some difficult decisions and consider consolidation.

I spoke with some Dunkirk and Fredonia elected officials and firefighters recently about consolidation. I suggested that the space now occupied by mostly empty storefronts at the D&F Plaza be utilized as a municipal complex. A safety plaza could be built that would be centrally located along with the necessary municipal offices. Everyone with whom I spoke agreed. Everyone also said it could never work. Not because of a lack of funds. Not because it makes sense. But because everyone is concerned with protecting their own turf and, “there is some job security in the way things are now.”

Job security? With our tax base continuing to dwindle I wonder just how much job security there really is.

As for our schools, we all know they’re suffering. We hold onto buildings because they’re neighborhood accessible, and yet we bus the students. We have elementary school buildings that are protected because they’re on the “historical” register. We are cheating our students. We can merge some of the sports programs, but what is happening academically? How about the arts? How long should we keep school districts operating to provide job security to teachers and administrators at the expense of our children?

Finally, let’s not forget about a lack of jobs, or the price of gas. Let’s not let the naysayers turn us away from fracking. We need jobs in Chautauqua County. Fracking can be done safely. Fracking will strengthen our local economies, provide jobs, give us clean burning natural gas, and reduce our dependence on foreign fuel. Once again, politics has taken the place of doing what is right.

Whew! These are things on which I’m focused; what’s on your radar?

Have a great day.

Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to