By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In the final budget round, state lawmakers and Governor Andrew Cuomo have dropped a controversial proposal designed to bring an experimental for-profit hospital to Brooklyn.
On January 25, the Governor had proposed a pilot program that would allow business corporations to own and operate two hospitals in New York State, one to be located in Kings County.
For-profit chains have taken over non-profits in other states over the last couple of years, with promised benefits including increased capital investment, streamlined management and efficiencies of scale. But the benefits to patients have not always appeared and many health care advocates have expressed reservations about their spread.
Opponents like Linda O’Neill, an RN at embattled Long Island College Hospital (LICH) in Cobble Hill, said the proposal would have used Brooklyn patients as “guinea pigs.”
A Senate version of the budget upped the number of for-profits from two to ten, with “at least” one in Brooklyn. The Assembly, however, rejected the for-profit pilot program altogether.
The final state budget, which needs to be passed before the April 1 deadline, omits the for-profit hospital, along with a couple of related proposals. The original budget proposal also called for deregulating “Certificate of Need,” the process that gives communities a voice when hospitals want to close or cut services. It also called for allowing caregivers lesser qualified than nurses to administer medication.
“Albany lawmakers listened to us. And so did Governor Cuomo,” said Anne Bové, an RN at Bellevue Hospital and one of the elected leaders of the New York State Nurses Association. “For-profit hospitals sacrifice patients for profits. Nurses, caregivers, and patients should be the ones making decisions about patient care – not hedge funds and private equity investors. I’m glad our lawmakers and the governor listened to us and stopped for-profit hospital chains from invading our state.”
An Albany insider told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday that the Governor, Senate and Assembly were “moving this budget deliberately and quickly to be passed.”
Before the budget proposal dissolved, staff at Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital (LICH) and Interfaith Medical Center had speculated that the Governor was planning to close one or both hospitals and replace them with a for-profit.
The idea may not be dead, however. According to Crain’s Health Pulse, the proposal may resurface as a bill. “Discussions will be pushed into the legislative session once the budget is done,” sources told Crain’s.
On March 19, financially troubled SUNY Downstate voted to close LICH, amidst a firestorm of neighborhood opposition. “We have no money," said Carl McCall, the SUNY board chairman.
The state’s new budget contains no new funds to bail out SUNY Downstate. SUNY officials must submit a restructuring plan for the hospital by June.
“Once they come up with a plan, then we will work them on a source of funding,” a Cuomo aide told the New York Daily News. “It makes sense, before you plunk down money, you come up with a plan that works.”
The sale of the LICH, in upscale Cobble Hill, could fetch $500 million SUNY Downstate, but would leave a wide swath of Brownstone Brooklyn and downtown without a hospital.