By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Officials at Lutheran HealthCare in Brooklyn are bracing themselves for devastating cuts that will have to be made as a result of the sequester battle currently playing out in Washington DC.
Lutheran HealthCare, a network that includes the hospital Lutheran Medical Center in Sunset Park and several medical clinics in the southern end of Brooklyn, could face nearly $3 million in spending reductions, according to officials, who said there is a “high probability” of job losses and cuts to community health services.
The Lutheran Family Health Centers, the outpatient clinics the network runs, are particularly vulnerable to the dangers caused by sequestration, officials said.
"If a compromise is not found on Capitol Hill we'll see unfortunate consequences at Lutheran Family Health Centers," said Larry K. McReynolds, the executive director of the health centers. "We are estimating that sequestration could hit our network with at least $735,000 in federal cuts," he said.
The sequester involves a series of automatic budget cuts that kicked in on March 1 as a result of a federal law that President Obama and the congress agreed to put into effect if a budget deal could not be reached.
Sequester Lutheran's community health centers are in the process of estimating the full impact to jobs and health services. Based on federal estimates, the network could be cut $471,227 from one federal grant alone. The grant helps Lutheran provide care and basic services to its underserved communities. Since the grant is funded only through May, the health centers are forced to absorb the entire cut over a shorter period of time remaining in the year, officials said.
The network's remaining federal grants are expected to be reduced another $172,000 along with a $92,000 loss to its Medicare payments. This includes cuts in the network's grant from the US Centers for Disease Control for at-risk HIV populations, as well as grants to address substance abuse and mental health issues.
Compounding Lutheran's issues are potential cuts (estimates are as high as 10 percent or another $625,000) to New York State block grants that support thousands of families through services like prenatal care, infant mortality prevention, oral health care, cancer screenings, vaccinations, and school-based health. Lutheran operates 32 school-based health centers.
Lutheran Medical Center, at 150 55th St. in Sunset Park, which has already absorbed over $40 million in reductions from Medicaid and Medicare since 2009, is now facing an additional minimum of $2 million in cuts from Medicare, hospital officials said. The Lutheran Augustana Center of Extended Care and Rehabilitation, a skilled nursing facility located across the street from the hospital, will be cut approximately $200,000.
"It is impossible to comprehend how safety-net hospitals and health systems can continue to absorb these levels of reductions without impacting upon the patients and the beneficiaries," said Claudia Caine, hospital director. "These cuts unfairly penalize those that are operating viable high quality institutions that our community absolutely depends on for jobs and comprehensive care," she said.