Hospitals face new funding cuts

The East End’s three hospitals will lose $557,000 in the latest round of budget cuts passed Monday night by the state Legislature to keep the government from shutting down.

The so-called extender package approved Monday is the 11th since April 1, when the state, as usual, failed to adopt an on-time budget.

The extension pays for state operations only through June 20, when another would be necessary, unless a budget agreement is reached.

Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead takes the largest hit of the three East End hospitals, with $220,000 in new cuts. Southampton Hospital is losing $169,000 and Eastern Long Island Hospital $168,000.

Added to state losses is a cut in federal funds that results from what East End Health Alliance spokesman Andrew Mitchell called “the multiplier.” When the state cuts funds, he explained in an interview on Friday, it affects Medicaid reimbursements from the federal government, which purposely made more money available to hospitals to offset some of the effects of the recession. New York State’s action is “diametrically opposed” to the federal effort, Mr. Mitchell said.

What’s more, he said, these latest cuts build upon cuts the hospitals have had to absorb for several years. There’s no clear indication of how much money the hospitals will lose in the year ahead, he said. Gov. David Paterson indicated in this latest extender proposal — the first to contain major budget cuts — that he would continue to implement cuts included in his budget proposal in future packages if a budget agreement isn’t reached.

If you’re not a Medicaid patient and think you’re unaffected by these cuts, you’re wrong, Mr. Mitchell said. Every patient will have to pay the price for the cuts in the form ofreduced staffing and even an end to specific hospital programs. That could work in a city where there are many hospitals offering similar services, Mr. Mitchell said. But on the rural East End, it could force patients to seek treatment for some illnesses a long distance from home, he said.

At Peconic Bay Medical Center, where Mr. Mitchell is president and CEO, he hasn’t yet begun to assess where cuts might be made, but there’s no fat to be cut, so the hospital will have to look at programs and personnel, he said.

“We’re still in a wait-and-see position,” Mr. Mitchell said.

He had harsh words for Gov. Paterson and state legislators who refused to allow any opportunity for hospital officials to discuss the cuts with lawmakers.

“Essentially, the governor held a gun to everybody’s head,” he said, by ordering three quarters of a billion dollars cut this week to keep the state from shutting down.

“We’re not insensitive to budget issues and the economy,” Mr. Mitchell said. No one thought there wouldn’t be cuts in health care, he said.

“But it’s fundamentally wrong” to ignore the process of discussing proposed cuts, he said. In the absence of state money, the hospitals still have to function and they can’t turn uninsured patients away from their emergency rooms, Mr. Mitchell said. With so many people who have lost jobs in this economy, many don’t have health insurance coverage, further burdening the hospitals that treat them, he said.

The governor and legislators have been concentrating on balancing the budget only by cutting costs and that doesn’t work, Mr. Mitchell said. They need to also focus on revenue growth and a state stimulus package to foster job creation, he said.

“That seems completely absent in this discussion,” Mr. Mitchell said.

Because of the aging population, health care is one of the largest growth industries on the East End, with the three hospitals collectively operating as one of the area’s largest employers. If the hospitals are forced to make major cuts in personnel, Mr. Mitchell said, that will certainly have an adverse impact on the local economy.

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