Hospitals brace for budget cuts

Proposed cuts in state funding to hospitals would have a devastating effect on communities, according to local health care and political leaders.

On Monday, the presidents of Bridgeport Hospital and St. Vincent’s Medical Center joined state Reps. Lawrence Miller, R-122nd District, Jason Perillo, R-113th, and Laura Hoydick, R-120th, and state Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-21st, to condemn the state’s budget plan.

The group painted a bleak picture of what residents can expect should the state proceed with plans to reduce funding of the state’s Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) program and Medicaid. The cuts, scheduled for fiscal year 2014 and 2015, would total about $550 million.

Devastating cuts

St. Vincent’s President Steve Marcus said the cuts would “devastate” Connecticut’s hospitals.

“We take our mission very seriously,” he said. “We treat all without regard to their ability to pay.”

Such a funding reduction would throw hospitals into “survival mode,” Marcus said, and communities would suffer reduced availability of care.

Bridgeport Hospital President and CEO William Jennings, calling the state’s hospitals a health care safety net that would be weakened by the proposed funding cuts, said Bridgeport Hospital stood to lose about $22 million over two years if the state approves the reductions.

“These cuts will put our stability in jeopardy,” he said. “We would have no choice but to cut programs and services.”

Unfortunately, Jennings said, community health programs would be among the first programs on the chopping block, since these programs already lose money.

In addition, Jennings said, cuts to hospitals would harm the local economy. Bridgeport Hospital has an estimated $756-million impact on the local economy. That impact would be reduced, since hospitals would have no choice but to eliminate staff positions, he said.

The four elected officials, all Republicans, were unanimous in their opposition to the proposed cuts. Perillo said the reductions would have a significant long-term effect on the ability of hospitals to provide critical care to residents.

“This tremendous drop in funding can have no other result than to compromise the ability of our health care providers and emergency responders to provide our area with needed medical services,” Perillo said.

Hoydick said the state should not balance its budget at the expense of quality health care.

“We are collectively calling on the administration to recognize the need to adequately fund our hospitals and to honor the commitment they made just a couple of years ago to make them whole in the state budget,” he said.

Job loss

Miller estimated the state could lose about 1,000 jobs if the legislature approved the plan.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that all areas of the economy are having substantial difficulty in recovering from the recession,” he said. “But it is inexcusable to place into jeopardy the quality of care and patient service at our local hospitals by shifting funding away from them to satisfy other state budget items.”

Kelly agreed that job losses would be substantial.

“The governor’s proposed cuts to hospitals will reduce health care quality and access, eliminate jobs we need, and shred a safety net which many people depend upon, especially those families who do not qualify for Medicaid and have no insurance,” Kelly said. “I am working to keep these good paying jobs and hospitals in our community by reversing this poor public policy choice.”