Union workers at Maimonides Medical Center are lobbying Albany to increase the Medicaid reimbursement rate and increase funding for hospitals like Maimonides, citing an “urgent need” to ensure the medical center can continue its critical work.
“1199SEIU members are calling on the NYS Department of Health to urgently invest resources into our health system so that we can protect care, have a stable and strong workforce, and never have to compromise on the care we deliver each and every day,” said Sayfidin Nurmatov, a pharmacist and union member at Maimonides.
More than 1,000 Maimonides employees, most members of the local healthcare workers’ union 1199SEIU, signed a petition calling on state Department of Health Commissioner Mary Bassett to take immediate action to protect the hospital and its patients after “years of underfunding at our safety net hospital.”
“We are working hard to provide the best quality of care, but we know our institution needs the appropriate resources to do so,” reads the petition, which was delivered to Bassett on Monday. “There is an urgent need to ensure Maimonides – the borough’s largest hospital, largest Medicaid provider, and a destination for specialized care – remains financially healthy and able to continue providing a broad range of high quality clinical services to the Brooklyn communities that depend on it.”
Safety-nets struggle to secure funding
Safety-net hospitals, like Maimonides, serve large numbers of patients who are uninsured or are insured by Medicaid, Medicare, or both. The communities they serve – which are significantly lower-income, with high percentages of marginalized populations — often suffer from disproportionately bad health outcomes, including high rates of hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19, according to the New York Safety Net Hospital Coalition — which Maimonides is a member of.
Because of the populations they serve, safety-net hospitals struggle with sufficient funding — they don’t have the same access to capital as large health systems serving primarily affluent communities, and often lack the money needed to make infrastructure repairs or improvements. The issue at the front of 1199’s mind is Medicaid under-reimbursements, which are the primary driver of these financial hurdles for safety-nets. As of last year, Medicaid only reimbursed hospitals 61 cents out of every dollar spent on caring for a Medicaid patient. While Medicare reimbursements are higher, they still don’t usually cover the cost of care — meaning the hospital is actively losing money caring for vulnerable patients.
The chaos of the pandemic and economic downturn have exacerbated the existing issues, according to 1199. On Monday, they headed to Albany for their first day of lobbying lawmakers to amend existing healthcare laws and close the Medicaid gap to ensure Maimonides receives the money it needs to care for its patients.
“Maimonides is Brooklyn’s largest hospital. We serve a considerable number of patients, and our community depends on us,” Nurmatov said. “Each doctor, nurse, nursing aide, pharmacist, dietician, environmental service worker, and every other staff member is part of providing essential care. We all stepped up during the pandemic.”
As the largest hospital and the largest Medicaid provider in the city’s most-populous borough, Maimonides is the first — and for many, only — port of call for all kinds of medical issues. Brooklynites go there to be treated for psychiatric and behavioral issues, cancer, cardiac issues, and more — and it’s one of the state’s biggest obstetrics centers, delivering more than 7,000 babies per year.
Some in the state government are already working on long-term changes to the reimbursement and funding models, but that doesn’t help caregivers and patients who are struggling now, union reps wrote in the petition.
Supporting healthcare workers
“Moreover, as the workers who have sacrificed greatly during the pandemic, and who continue to shoulder ever-greater burdens in its aftermath, we ask that you ensure that Maimonides has the resources necessary to support its workforce, and in turn to meet its patients’ needs. Our communities depend upon it – and so do our jobs,” the petition reads.
Earlier this year, Maimonides reached a contract agreement with NYSNA days before nurses planned to strike. Unionized nurses were fighting primarily for fair pay and safe staffing ratios, especially for nurses who had just fought through the worst of the pandemic. Maimonides was among the first of eight local hospitals to reach an agreement with NYSNA nurses.
“Now more than ever, we need proper healthcare funding for safety-net hospitals like ours,” Nurmatov said. “We are pleading with those in charge to understand how important it is for Maimonides to have sufficient resources to hire and retain staff to be able to fulfill our mission to serve our community.”