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Queens Chronicle

State must fund our hospitals

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Posted: Thursday, January 27, 2011 12:00 am

Cutting Albany’s budget, and cutting it drastically, is absolutely imperative. But that doesn’t mean spending reductions can be made in every single area; the state must have priorities. One of those should be ensuring the continued survival of all hospitals in Queens. But Gov. Cuomo is planning such large cuts to Medicaid that several hospitals here, and elsewhere, could be put in serious financial jeopardy.

Losing hospitals is an old story in Queens, which saw three shut their doors in rapid succession about two years ago. Two of those, St. John’s in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate in Jamaica, closed down when the company that operated them ran out of money and the state decided it had had enough of bailing them out. The third, Parkway in Forest Hills, was shut under orders of the Berger Commission, a panel set up to streamline healthcare in the state. Its operator, Dr. Robert Aquino, is still trying to convince Albany to allow him to reopen.

The result of all the closures? Queens’ hospitals have been getting nearly as overcrowded as our schools. The borough has two hospital beds available for every 1,000 residents, compared to Manhattan’s luxurious 7.7 beds for every 1,000 people. Even the state average, 3.4 per 1,000 , is far better.

Now, faced with multi-billion deficits and a statutory obli-gation to balance the budget, Cuomo plans to cut from $2 to $3 billion out of Medicaid. What that really means is reducing reimbursements to hospitals like those that are still here.

About a dozen hospitals around the state — including Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in the heart of Queens and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, not far over the borough line in Brooklyn — are “teetering on the edge” financially, according to Stephen Berger of Cuomo’s Medicaid reform panel. Berger, who headed the panel whose recommendations closed down Parkway, was quoted last week in the New York Post wondering how many of the state’s hospitals are necessary and how many can be saved.

Our answer in Queens? All of them.

Jamaica, for example, is seeing 130,000 patients a year go through an emergency room that was designed for 60,000. Hospital spokesman Ole Pedersen sent the Chronicle a statement on Tuesday declaring that the facility will survive even with a “more affordable” Medicaid system by making whatever “hard choices” are necessary.

We urge that the hard choices be made in Albany instead — in this case continuing funding so our residents’ health and welfare is not further jeopardized. Find the savings elsewhere.

United in progress?

President Obama’s declaration in his State of the Union Address that the United States must “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world” was right on the mark. So was the new camaraderie reflected in Congress’ decision to let members sit where they wished during the speech — which has always been about symbolism as much as substance.

We will not achieve those goals, or specific ones like catching up to the rest of world on things like high-speed rail service, if we remain divided. Or if one party keeps playing games like trying to repeal a vital law that’s just starting to take effect. Or if that party’s leader insists his top goal is defeating Obama.

Let’s hope Tuesday’s address marks a new paradigm of cooperation in Washington. It’s the only way forward.

Welcome to the discussion.