City Health Care Crisis

City Health Care Crisis

By Neal Tepel
July 31, 2010

The New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) faces a $1 billion budget gap in City Fiscal Year 2011, which begins July 1, 2010. Yet the need for the public hospital safety net is more critical than ever. HHC served more than 450,000 uninsured patients in 2009 with 1.3 million New Yorkers passing through its doors this year. HHC provides 66% of all uninsured outpatient hospital visits in New York City.

This largest municipal health care organization in the country is a $6.7 billion integrated health care delivery system. It provides medical, mental health and substance abuse services through its 11 acute care hospitals, four skilled nursing facilities, six large diagnostic and treatment centers, in home service program and more than 80 community based clinics.

Over the last three years the number of uninsured New Yorkers whoreceived health care at HHC facilities increased by 14 percent; while state budget cuts during the same period reduced funding by $240 million. While the need for services at city hospitals have increased, staff reductions have accelerated. Thousands of health care workers have lost their jobs and many more of the almost 40,000 public health professions will be affected. This year alone the workforce has been reduced by 1,300.

The closing of voluntary hospitals and Catholic medical centers has placed significant stress on the HHC system radically increasing demand for services. With the recent disintegration of the Catholic healthcare network, HHC's facilities are now the only remaining safety net hospital system in the city.

On April 30, 2010, St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, the third oldest hospital in New York City, closed its doors after 160 years of service. Two years ago, in March 2008, Cabrini Medical Center in Manhattan shut down. Mary Immaculate and St. John’s closed on March 1, 2009. In 2007, Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center in the Bronx filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy as did St. Vincent’s Midtown facility, previously St. Clare’s Hospital. St. Mary’s Hospital in Brooklyn closed June 2005. These were all part of an important hospital network serving New Yorkers in every neighborhood across the city.

With the increase in private hospital closures, HHC’s role as a safety net is more important then ever.  HHC, the Governor, Mayor and even the Federal Government, need to act now to stabilize the system and secure its long term future. New Yorkers must be provided with a quality heath care system that includes neighborhood outpatient facilities. The development of a community health care network is what’s needed.

Again this year, instead of expanding neighborhood health centers, dental clinics and child health clinics are being closed. With the elimination of medical services, those performing critical jobs will also be terminated. From now through 2014, HHC is expected to cut its workforce by almost 4,000. The plan to reduce medical services must be turned around. Let’s build and not destroy a great medical system in New York City.

Neal Tepel is the former President of the Civil Service Merit Council and Publisher of Laborpress.

July 12, 2010

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