Cutting funding to healthcare during a pandemic will endanger more lives 1

This month, many people around the City have observed the one-year anniversary of COVID-19, remembering the uncertainty the early days of the virus brought, reflecting on the economic hardships too many households continue to face, and, perhaps most of all, mourning the lives we lost to this horrific pandemic. And while transmission rates decrease and vaccines give people optimism that an end to this public health crisis is near, healthcare workers – like those once at the epicenter of the epicenter, NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst – are still taking care of critically-ill COVID patients, offering testing and vaccines, and supporting those still recovering that potentially will require a lifetime of additional health treatments. But despite the heroic, life-saving care the city’s public health system provided in the darkest of days during the pandemic, our funding is currently in jeopardy.

NYC Health + Hospitals, as New York City’s biggest provider of care to Medicaid recipients and the uninsured, is under attack yet again. The Governor’s proposed budget continues the assault on vital health care funding during a global pandemic emergency. The proposed cuts threaten the financial stability of safety net hospitals that disproportionately provide care for people on Medicaid and the uninsured. We want to highlight three Executive budget proposals that will be harmful to Elmhurst hospital and others in our system: the elimination of the Indigent Care Pool for public hospitals; the 1 percent cut in Medicaid reimbursement; and the reduction to capital reimbursement.

If these three proposals are enacted, our City’s public health system will stand to lose a total of $152 million, of which Elmhurst hospital would lose a combined $20.9 million.  This would be devastating in a normal year, but even more catastrophic since last year’s enacted budget cut Medicaid by 1.5 percent and reduced capital reimbursement by 5 percent. Both of these cuts are still in effect and as a result, Elmhurst have lost $10.9 million in State Fiscal Year 21. As COVID ravaged our community, we stood outside every night with pots and pans and began cheering and clapping for doctors, nurses, and other first responders. Yet, here we are fighting for money to help them do their job and help us stay alive.

COVID-19 continues to have a disproportionate impact on our Black and Latinx communities, and safety net providers, like Elmhurst, continue to serve all who need care. In fact, NYC Health + Hospitals just opened a new state of the art COVID-19 Center of Excellence site, located in Jackson Heights, Queens. The Center is designed to meet the unique needs of patients recovering from COVID-19, including specialized services like pulmonary and cardiology care, radiology and diagnostic services, and mental health services, in addition to comprehensive primary care health services. Sites and quality care like the more offered at this clinic could be in jeopardy considering the Governor’s proposed budget cuts.

We applaud the Legislature for rejecting these proposed cuts in their one-house budget and ask that on April 1 we send a clear message by restoring the funding to our local health care systems. There has never been more proof that New York’s low-income, immigrant and communities of color need strong, sustainable safety net systems like NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst.

We must learn the lesson from the spring, and the future of the health care system must address health care disparities. This is a matter of health care access and a matter of racial equity.

Catalina Cruz is New York State Assemblywoman for the 39th District, in northwestern Queens, and Helen Arteaga Landaverde is CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst.

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