By Abigail Weinberg
More than 100 healthcare professionals gathered in Putnam Hospital Center Thursday to protest proposed cuts to Medicaid funding in New York State’s 2019-2020 budget.
Members of the union 1199 Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers East and the New York State Nurses Association teamed up with hospital administrators to voice their opposition to the possible $550 million cut to Medicaid funding — the result of a shortfall in state revenue due in part to changes in the tax code. Because the federal government matches state Medicaid funding, the loss would total $1.1 billion.
Peter Kelly, president of Putnam Hospital Center, estimates that the cuts could reduce Putnam hospital’s budget by $1 million or more.
“When you’re talking about over a $1 billion reduction in division of healthcare through Medicaid funding, that can be potentially devastating for so many hospitals in the state,” he said.
A group of workers in hospital scrubs wielded signs that stated “Protect Putnam Hospital for the patients and community!” and “No cuts! Protect our hospitals of the Hudson Valley.”
“These cuts really cut us to the bone,” Greg Speller, executive vice president of 1199SEIU, said. When Speller shouted to the protesters, “Are we gonna stand for that?” protesters roared, “No!”
Union members also signed a petition urging state lawmakers to restore the cuts.
“These are cuts to essential programs, and to basically — especially from our perspective — the staff in the building, which provide the critical care of people from this community,” Speller said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has argued the cuts are necessary because of a severe shortfall in revenue.
Nicole Lynch, a patient care technician, said the cuts would make it harder for her to do her job.
“Cuts, no matter where they are, all they do is hurt patient satisfaction,” she said. “I can’t take care of my patients, and nobody else can. This hospital depends on it. I depend on it, along with so many others.”
Gayle Johnson, a respiratory therapist at the hospital, said that she refuses to let the proposed cuts damage the quality of care she provides to patients.
“The patients here are my family,” she said. “We all put our patients first. Now, our lawmakers must make their constituents and the health of our communities a priority.”
Kelly pointed out that the proposed cuts would affect urban medical centers, which have higher proportions of Medicaid patients, even more severely than suburban hospitals such as Putnam.
“It hurts everybody, but it really devastates some,” he said.
While the cuts may seem catastrophic, hospital workers are holding out hope that the state Legislature will amend its budget proposal. In addition to the rally at Putnam Hospital Center, the union is preparing for another demonstration in Albany on March 19.
The April 1 budget deadline leaves the state Legislature with three weeks to make changes to Cuomo’s proposal.
“We have to do everything we can to stand together as health care providers to make sure that our elected officials understand the enormous and potentially life-threatening impact the proposed healthcare budget cuts will have on all New Yorkers,” Kelly said. “We’re looking forward to good judgment and common sense prevailing.”