By Joseph A. Ruffolo
In recent weeks, much has been speculated about the future of the Seneca Nation of Indians Compact Agreement with New York State. Several groups have weighed in on what has happened, what has not happened and what should happen with the agreement. As a Niagara Falls native and CEO of one of the area’s largest employers, I wish to direct our attention instead toward what has happened in our community since the Seneca Nation became a leading citizen of Niagara Falls some fifteen years ago.
As many of us remember, we had a crumbling Convention Center with minimal activity and a dwindling surrounding area in 2002. The Nation took that crumbling structure and converted it into a first-class casino, hotel and event center. In so doing, the Nation created some 2,200 jobs and became a catalyst for more cross-border visitors along with further development and investment in our downtown tourism center.
In its history as a member of the Niagara Falls community, the Seneca Nation has truly been a good neighbor and partner to Memorial Medical Center. The renovation of our inpatient mental health facility was made possible through securitizing payments made to us under the Gaming Compact. As the only provider of adult inpatient behavioral health services in Niagara County, these facilities are critical to serving the Niagara region. And each year since we have gratefully received funding from the Compact we have continued to reinvest those funds into expanding our medical campus and the services we offer to our patients across Niagara County.
Memorial’s collaboration with the Seneca Nation has also included other health care initiatives including medical supervision of Emergency Medical Technicians at the Seneca Niagara Casino, oversight of the Casino’s employee health and wellness center and other health education efforts. In short, the Nation is one of our most involved and vibrant partners in our mission to improve the health and welfare of Niagara Region citizens.
Each year, the Seneca Gaming Corporation has hosted and supported The Premier – Memorial’s largest fundraising initiative. Over $1.6 million in proceeds from this annual event has benefited our cardiac and stroke care, behavioral health services, women’s health services and our county-wide community health initiatives.
In virtually every discussion, encounter and joint initiative we have been privileged to work on with the Seneca Nation we have found their leaders to be passionate, community-minded professionals: honorable and respectful individuals who honor their commitments and value their long-term relationships. We are grateful for their longstanding support and friendship.
Regardless of what shape the future of the Compact with New York State takes, we look forward with confidence in the Nation’s continued “good citizen” role in our community.
About the Author: Joseph A. Ruffolo is President & CEO of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center