Vouch surfing! Feds free up hospital cash, but LICH will miss the waive

News analysis: If LICH closes, housing towers could rise
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Beleaguered Brooklyn hospitals could get skipped — and Long Island College Hospital will definitely get passed over — by the billions of dollars the feds gave the state to boost its healthcare system last week.

The five-year Medicaid grant announced on Feb. 13 will allow New York to reinvest $8 billion in the state’s healthcare network and preserve services, but the money could miss the struggling Brooklyn hospitals that Gov. Cuomo and Mayor DeBlasio say it will save because the disbursement process is governed by federal healthcare policy, not level of need. Gov. Cuomo specifically nixed the chances of the struggling Cobble Hill medical center getting the greenbacks, saying that the process of the state selling it off to developers with hospital partners makes it ineligible.

“[The Long Island College Hospital bidding process] is not directly connected to this Medicaid waiver situation,” he told the radio station WNYC.

As for the critically ill Interfaith Medical Center in East Flatbush and struggling Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick and Brookdale University Hospital in Brownsville, the cash will prop them up as the state shaves their service levels, Cuomo said.

“This is about transforming hospitals that are financially un-sustainable because they have beds that are un-needed,” he said. “Will it mean that some hospital beds are reduced? Yes, because that’s the point of the exercise.”

An Obama administration health honcho said that the money should not be seen as life support for ailing medical centers in a letter to Cuomo last month.

“[The waiver money] will not, nor should it, determine the future path for particular New York hospitals,” wrote Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the letter.

Gov. Cuomo says that he will steer the cash to struggling hospitals, but the feds will negotiate the terms of the funding infusion with the state in coming weeks and the state is obligated to meet “ongoing milestones” in order to the receive the funding, a government spokeswoman said.

'Faith builder: The Medicaid waiver could help prop up the faltering Interfaith Medical Center. It also could not.
Associated Press

New York’s health commissioner warned that Long Island College Hospital would not be eligible for the waiver money, even if Cuomo was interested in providing it, because the money is supposed to be for new projects, Capital New York reported.

The feds were vague about what exactly the money should go towards.

“Over the last several months we have worked with dedicated leaders in New York on a waiver agreement that represents a significant commitment to improve care delivery in Medicaid that will result in better health outcomes for patients and lower healthcare costs for the program,” said Emma Sandoe, spokeswoman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “We are encouraged that this agreement is entering the final stages of approval, and we look forward to continuing work with the state to achieve meaningful delivery system reform in New York.”

Activists and elected officials nevertheless cheered the waiver, saying that the freed-up money could be a godsend for Brooklyn’s hobbled hospitals.

“These federal funds will help to protect healthcare in under-served communities,” New York State Nurses Association head Jill Furillo said. “Too many patients already lack access to quality care.”

The facilities should get a piece of the pie because they serve low-income areas, one elected official argued at a community board meeting on Feb. 12.

“These are safety net hospitals and they have a heavy Medicaid population,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D—Brooklyn Heights) said.

A spokesman for the state York said the waiver does not disrupt its plans to sell off its valuable Cobble Hill real estate.

Cuomo-tion: Gov. Cuomo and his frenemy Mayor DeBlasio begged the federal government for the money.
Community Newspaper Group / Aaron Short

Reach reporter Megan Riesz at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her on Twitter @meganriesz.