Assembly's Brooklyn delegation to meet with Schumer to discuss solutions
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
There are a lot of reasons to save Long Island College Hospital (LICH) and Interfaith Medical Center in addition to the important health care these facilities provide to patients, according to lawmakers, who said the two institutions are also economic engines.
The demise of these hospitals could negatively impact the borough’s precarious job picture, Assemblyman Peter Abbate said.
“Jobs and health care go together. Hospitals are the largest employer in the county,” Abbate (D-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
In 2010, the health care and social assistance fields in the borough employed 152,317 people, according to statistics provided by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. That was an increase of more than 30,000 workers from the year 2000, when the industries employed 121,054.
The assembly’s Brooklyn delegation, led by Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D-Greenpoint-Williamsburg) plans to meet with US Senator Charles Schumer in mid-November to coordinate efforts to save the targeted hospitals and come up with ways to strengthen health care facilities that are not being targeted for closure.
“We want to develop a comprehensive plan to save our hospitals,” Abbate said.
Lawmakers are racing against the clock. News 12 Brooklyn reported that the final closure date for Interfaith has been set for Nov. 14.
The health care problem has a ripple effect on the borough’s economy, Lentol said. “When a hospital closes, all of the ancillary businesses around that hospital close, too,” he told the Eagle. Coffee shops, gift shops, car services and other businesses located near hospitals get their customer base from the hospitals.
All of the laid off hospital employees find themselves out of work in a city where the unemployment rate of 8.7 percent is higher than the national average of 7.3 percent.
But economics aside, Lentol and Abbate both said that their main concern was the smooth delivery of health care services to Brooklyn residents.
“You’ll have a lot of sick people who can’t go to work because there’s no hospital near them to treat them. We do not seem to have an infrastructure in place for primary care. There are many people who won’t go to a doctor’s office. They go to the emergency room,” Lentol said.
Both LICH an Interfaith have money problems, Abbate said. The facilities are losing money. “But the question is why are they losing money,” he asked.
Part of it has to do with reimbursement rates, he said. Hospitals lay out the funds to treat patients and are then reimbursed by private insurance companies or by government programs like Medicare and Medicaid. “Each hospital negotiates its own reimbursement rates,” he said.
“They’re not getting enough money to survive,” Lentol said.
“Sometimes the Medicaid patient has to stay in the hospital for a few days more than expected. The hospital is not going to kick them out,” Lentol said. “They stay and it winds up costing the hospitals money. We’re talking millions of dollars,” he said.
The collapse of the economy in 2008 was a factor, according to Lentol. “Our economy tanked in 2008. It had a devastating effect. The state lost money. When a state loses money, they make cuts in things like Medicaid and education,” he said.
Abbate contends that there is another factor at play: reputation. “People of means go to hospitals in Manhattan for elective surgeries and other things. They think those hospitals are better than what we have here in Brooklyn. They think they’ll get superior treatment. The result is that our hospitals have Medicaid and Medicare patients while the Manhattan hospitals get the patients with good private insurance,” he said.
“It is a real problem,” Lentol agreed. “There is no shortage of money in Manhattan hospitals,” he said.
“And it’s a shame, too,” Abbate said. “Maimonides Medical Center has one of the best cancer centers you’ll ever see. And people still go places in Manhattan,” he said.
One possible solution, according to Abbate, is to curb the access Manhattan hospitals have to Brooklyn. “Maybe we should try to keep Mount Sinai from opening up a clinic here,” he said, adding that establishing small health care centers here is often how successful hospitals from Manhattan find new patients.
Lentol wasn’t sold on Abbate’s idea. “I don’t know if you can do that. It’s a free country. You can open up a clinic anywhere you want,” he said.
Lentol said he preferred to look at ways hospitals in Brooklyn could collaborate with each other with successful facilities helping out their troubled brethren. “I’d like to see them form collaborations so hospitals lean on one another,” he said.
In addition to meeting with Schumer, the Brooklyn delegation will also be sitting down with hospital chiefs, doctors and other medical personnel “to have a dialogue” Lentol said. “We want to find out from them what their needs are."