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Paterson budget would hurt hospitals, nursing homes <br> Local services at risk of suffering severe cuts

Hospitals and nursing homes in Western New York would lose $30 million in Gov. David A. Paterson's latest budget proposal and may have to drastically curtail services in response, officials warned Monday.

The latest round of cuts in health care spending could prompt layoffs, the closing of clinics and a reduction in hours for specialized programs, board members of area hospitals and other executives said.

"The reality is any skin has been cut away, fat has been cut away, muscle has been cut away, and now we're cutting bone," John E. Bartimole, president of the Western New York Healthcare Association, said after a news conference Monday in a Cheektowaga hotel. "I'm not going to tell you that hospitals will close, but I will tell you that access will be diminished."

Local members of the Hospital Trustees of New York State, an advocacy group, held the conference as part of their campaign to persuade lawmakers to restore health care spending.

Paterson would impose $1 billion in spending cuts or increased taxes on hospitals, hospital-based nursing homes and home care in an attempt to close the state's massive budget gap, the officials said.

Six previous cuts over the past two years reduced the state's spending or increased taxes on health care to the tune of $4 billion, the Healthcare Association reported.

The $1 billion and $4 billion figures include federal money lost when the state reduces its spending on certain health-care programs, Bartimole said.

"The problem is: When is enough, enough?" said Howard T. Howlett Jr., board member of the Hospital Trustees and board chairman of the Starflight medical helicopter service and the Southern Tier Health Care Network.

In response, hospital boards in the eight counties of Western New York are passing resolutions condemning the budget proposal and lobbying legislators to get the cuts restored.

A Healthcare Association survey of area hospitals found officials feared the $30 million in cuts could lead to layoffs; reduce hours at or close clinics; force the elimination of cardiac rehabilitation, nutritional counseling, childbirth classes and other programs; make it harder to recruit new doctors and invest in high-tech equipment; and threaten the future of some hospital-based nursing homes.

Some of the cuts already have hurt area health care institutions, officials said.

"We have less employees as you and I are speaking than we did a year ago, and that could continue," Howlett said, referring to the region's hospitals.

The $1 billion in statewide cuts include an increase in the gross receipts tax, an assessment on hospital inpatient services, to 0.75 percent from 0.35 percent.

The budget also eliminates this year's nursing home "trend factor," the formula for factoring in the growth of costs for fuel and other items in the calculation of reimbursement for residents on Medicaid.

Hospital trustees want the tax increase eliminated and the trend factor restored.

Paterson has proposed extensive spending cuts, as well as borrowing, to deal with the state's financial crisis.

New York spends far more on Medicaid -- the state, federal and county health program that pays for medical care and nursing home care for low-income people -- than any other state.

New York spent $44 billion on Medicaid in 2007, according to one assessment, and Medicaid spending makes up 20 percent of the state budget.

But Bartimole said New York spends more on Medicaid because it offers more services.

"We have a Cadillac health care system," he said. "We don't have a Cadillac budget anymore."


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