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Brooklyn pols fight to restore millions in budget for teetering hospitals

Brookdale, Interfaith, others affected

March 26, 2015 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Interfaith Medical Center is one of the four Brooklyn hospitals depending on the restoration of money for safety-net hospitals. AP photo
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Brooklyn officials are fiercely negotiating in Albany to restore to the budget hundreds of millions of dollars meant to prop up teetering safety-net hospitals — including Interfaith Medical Center, Brookdale Hospital, Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn.

Advocates say that seven New York Metropolitan-area hospitals, and 21 others throughout the state, could be at risk if the state Senate and Assembly fail to reach an agreement to restore $290 million for Vital Access Provider (VAP) funding slashed from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed Executive Budget. More than $100 million in additional funding is also affected.

The VAP funding had been reduced by $80 million in the Assembly’s budget, while the Senate’s budget eliminated the funding entirely.

Assemblymember N. Nick Perry (D-Canarsie – East Flatbush – Brownsville) told the Brooklyn Eagle on Thursday that earlier this week the Assembly’s entire Brooklyn delegation had signed off on a letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie calling for “full funding at the original proposed number.”

Perry said he has been assured that an agreement had been struck in the Assembly “to restore the full amount, as we requested in my letter signed by all of my colleagues in the Brooklyn delegation.”

The impact of losing the funds “would be tremendously negative to healthcare access and delivery system in Brooklyn,” he said. “It’s called Vital Access Provider because without this money, Brooklyn residents would be jeopardized as far as access to healthcare.”

The delegation’s letter reads in part, “As you are aware, these funds are desperately needed by Brookdale Hospital and other severely financially distressed hospitals to remain open to provide and sustain vital health care services to north and southeastern Brooklyn, and the bordering Queens community.”

“The Senate did not put anything in the budget,” Perry said. “The fight is to get them to agree” to a compromise.

“It’s a process of give and take,” he added.

Before the Assembly worked to restore the VAP funds, $76 million had been allocated to restore pharmacy and spousal-refusal Medicaid provisions. This week’s negotiations, however, eliminated funding for these items in the Assembly budget and moved the money back into VAP funding.

“We would like to fund these also,” Perry said. “They are still on the table; we’re trying to find a source.

“My goal is to make sure we retain the VAP funds at the highest possible levels. We appear to be achieving that,” he said. “We have to keep alert, however, and make sure it stays when we actually print the budget.”

Nurses and caregiver groups have been working to get the word out in Albany, visiting lawmakers and manning phone banks. “Central Brooklyn is severely lacking healthcare services,” Michelle Ned, a patient care advocate at Interfaith Medical Center said in a statement. “Interfaith provides vital services that Brooklyn residents rely on like psychiatric care, surgical services and four satellite clinics for patients who are not able to come to the hospital. It is vital that Interfaith stays open so we can continue to care for the people of this community.”

In general, in order to qualify for VAP funds, hospitals and other healthcare facilities had to document severe financial need and meet other requirements, such as being on the verge of closure or acquisition. Exceptions were made, however.

The fiscal year begins on April 1.

Other affected New York area hospitals include St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway; Montefiore Mount Vernon Hospital and St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Yonkers.

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