2009-02-20 / Front Page

Local Hospitals Face Huge Budget Cuts

By Miriam Rosenberg

Two of the largest employers in Rockaway are in danger of losing millions of dollars if the proposed state budget cuts to health care made by Governor Paterson for fiscal year 2009- 2010 become law.

Peninsula Hospital Center, which currently employs more than 1,264 people, and St. John's Episcopal Hospital, with nearly 1,500 workers, are looking at huge cuts in the proposed state budget, to take effect on April 1, which would be in addition to ones that were passed in Paterson's 2008-2009 mid-year budget.

"They're looking at cutting $3 million from Peninsula Hospital," said Liz Sulik, director of external affairs at PHC. "On top of the cuts we just had, and increases in malpractice insurance - why they attack health care is insane."

The $3 million includes $1,662,000 from PHC and $1,053,000 from the hospital's nursing home, Peninsula Center for Extended Care and Rehabilitation. In the mid-year budget PHC lost more than $500,000 - $385,000 from the hospital and $138,000 from the nursing home.

"Every hospital is going through the exact same thing," continued Sulik. "It takes longer to pay vendors - incoming versus outgoing. Pharmacy is up. Union wages are up. Everything is up in costs and reimbursement is going down."

St. John's will lose more than $11 million in funding. That's in addition to the $800,000 that the hospital and $330,000 that the Bishop Charles Waldo MacLean Episcopal Nursing Home was cut in the mid-year budget. The $11 million includes $9,530,000 from the hospital and $1,609,000 from the nursing home.

"Despite facing several millions of dollars in proposed budget cuts by New York State and difficult economic times as well, St. John's Episcopal Hospital remains strongly committed to providing quality care to the people of the Rockaways and the Five Towns," said Penelope Chin, the director of public affairs at SJEH.

"In order to remain as a community resource … St. John's needs the support of its community - and especially of its elected officials. Everyone should urge the

Governor to reduce the amount of proposed budget cuts that fall disproportionately on the hospitals of New York State."

Last year the hospital provided more than $7.5 million in uncompensated care to patients.

"For patients in need and who qualify, the Hospital wants to work together with them to provide financial assistance so that they receive the health care they need," said Chin.

Sulik, who said that PHC is "probably the largest employer of Rockaway residents" on the peninsula, admitted the budget cuts could result in layoffs.

"But not in patient care," said Sulik. "Patient care comes first."

The federal stimulus doesn't ensure Peninsula Hospital and St. John's will get a reprieve from the proposed cuts. Governor Paterson, reportedly, wants to use the $11 billion in stimulus money for Medicaid, to come in over the next 27 months, to restore cuts in higher education and social welfare agencies and get rid of proposed taxes and fees, according to a report in Newsday on February 15.

Daniel Sisto, the president of the Health Care Association of New York, responded by saying, "Medicaid dollars should be for Medicaid services. The Governor's plan to raid them must be stopped. These federal health care dollars must be used to restore the draconian and disproportionate health care cuts and taxes the Governor has proposed."

Paterson, who has to deal with steep projected deficits over the next few years, believes that now is the time to bring long term spending in the state under control.

"We're spending more than we have in revenues," said the governor after the stimulus bill was passed. "That's our biggest problem. And if we address that, then the stimulus package becomes a plus. If we use it as replacement money … we put our fiscal problems off into the future and compound them."

Austin Shafran, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, who represents Rockaway, was noncommittal when The Wave - citing the problems facing Rockaway hospitals - asked if the senator would fight to restore the budget cuts and make sure the Medicaid stimulus money is used for that purpose.

"Senator Smith will continue to fight to ensure that New Yorkers have access to quality and affordable healthcare services," said Shafran in an email. "The Senator believes we have to restructure New York's budget by reducing spending so we can continue to provide vital services in areas like healthcare and avoid having to face future budget gaps as large as the current one."

Smith also wants to use the stimulus money to pay down the budget gap, reduce cuts, and grow the economy through new jobs and economic development initiatives that will ensure the long-term economic stability of the state.

Sulik said that PHC has begun a grassroots letter writing campaign to contact public officials to urge them to use the stimulus money to offset the cuts.

She added, "[This is] not improving health care. It's destroying it for so many people."

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