2011-01-28 / Top Stories

State Medicaid Cuts Could Cut PHC

By Howard Schwach

A hospital expert who heads Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign Team has warned that onethird of New York City’s private hospitals, including Rockaway’s Peninsula Hospital Center, could lose their life support and close down if Cuomo goes through with his vow to cut massive amounts of money from the state’s Medicaid program.

“There are 10 to 12 hospitals statewide that are teetering on the edge,” Stephen Berger told New York Post reporter Carl Campanile. “How many of them are really necessary? How many can be merged? That is what we have to ask.”

This is not the first time that Berger has talked of merging hospitals.

In 2006, a commission headed by Berger recommended that Peninsula Hospital Center in Arverne downsize by approximately 99 beds to 173 beds and that St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway downsize by approximately 81 beds to 251 beds and that the two Rockaway hospitals merge and rebuild a single facility with 400 beds.

“The optimal solution to meet the health care needs of the Rockaways is the establishment of one new hospital with an appropriate configuration of needed services and the number of beds in a convenient location for the bulk of the population,” the Berger report said.

“Neither of its two hospitals runs at full capacity, yet neither can absorb the other’s patient load. The mix of the services between the two hospitals is relatively complementary, but they have unnecessary overlaps in medical/ surgical capacity.

Their medical staffs overlap. Both facilities are old and in need of extensive capital renovation. Neither has an adequate physical plant in the optimal location to serve the needs of a growing community.

In an effort to avoid assuming more debt that it can comfortably carry, Peninsula Hospital has made steady but relatively small investments in its physical plant. St. John’s has renovated part of its outmoded facility but needs to do more.”

Now, in 2011, steep reductions in Medicaid could impact hospitals such as Peninsula, Berger said recently, adding that steep cuts could force many of the hospitals into bankruptcy or to shut down permanently.

The hospital center has faced financial difficulty over the past two years, and there have been several predictions of its demise that turned out not to be true.

Hospital officials call the New York Post report and Berger’s statements “irresponsible and reckless.”

“We found it highly irresponsible and reckless to name specific hospitals and to speculate about their closing,” said Brian Connelly, the vice president for communications for the Greater New York Hospital Association.

“It does both the employees of the hospitals and the communities they serve a disservice.

“Like so many other hospitals in vulnerable communities, PHC faces financial challenges, but they are essential to the Rockaway community and are going nowhere.”

Ole Pedersen, the vice president for emergency medicine and public affairs for Medisys, the organization that owns and operates Peninsula Hospital Center, said on Tuesday, “Despite successive rounds of Medicaid cuts, services [at our hospitals] have, through extraordinary efforts, continued to meet the needs of the communities we serve.

Each [of our hospitals] serves a socioeconomically challenged demographic of more than one million residents in each community, characterized by concentrations of poverty, immigrants, high Medicaid and uninsured, and despite the high need, a significant scarcity of primary care, inpatient services and beds. As in the case of Brookdale and Jamaica, Peninsula also serves an underserved and challenged population in an isolated part of Queens. As part of the MediSys network, these hospitals share management information systems, technology, clinical staff, and stable leadership which will continue to guide these hospitals.

“The changes in the U.S. economy have required significant reforms in virtually every industry and in government as well. Surely the growing Medicaid program is not exempt. An enlightened new administration in New York, with input from the legislature and experienced industry leaders will redesign a more affordable Medicaid system that must still meet the needs of these communities. Hard choices are inevitable. We will make the hard choices, and continue to provide services accordingly.”

Eight New York City hospitals have been closed since 2007.

Among the list of vulnerable hospitals named by The Post in addition to PHC are Brooklyn Hospital Center, Brookdale Hospital, Interfaith Hospital, Kingsbrook Hospital, Wyckoff Hospital, Jamaica Hospital and St. Barnabas Hospital.

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