State Of Health

Most years, when the New York state budget is announced, Nathan Littauer Hospital expects to lose funding. That didn’t happen this year.

“This budget’s different in that there’s usually all this negative, and there isn’t,” Nathan Littauer Hospital CEO Laurence Kelly said.

The state’s 2014-15 budget will reinvest $8 billion from a federal Medicaid waiver announced in February for projects to improve the health care system, according to a release from the state Senate. There also were no cuts in hospital reimbursement for Medicaid patients, Kelly said.

“That just means that we can do everything that we usually do and not have to scramble to try to be forced to reduce expenses when we didn’t want to,” Kelly said. “We’re looking to do that all the time anyway, to provide more services. … Most years we’re getting a 1 percent, 2 percent cut, 3 percent cut.”

The budget also includes funding for a number of health care programs, including $4.1 million to the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage program and other senior services; a $1.2 billion capital investment over seven years for restructuring health care facilities; and $163 million for early intervention programs, according to the Senate release. According to the release, along with funding for other health initiatives, including cancer services programs and the Nutritional Information for Women, Infants and Children program, the budget also includes the Safe Patient Handling Act, which requires hospitals to establish a program to prevent injuries to staff and patients during patient transport.

However, at the moment it’s still too early to tell how most of these investments will affect local services, according to local officials.

Kelly said the state will need to come up with criteria for distributing the $1.2 billion for health care facilities as grants.

“We don’t really know what they’re looking for yet,” he said. “Restructuring, on a global term, that kind of means what’s been happening for a long time now. There’s less of a need for people to be admitted to a hospital, and in place of that we take care of them as an outpatient, or they just come for a treatment, they come for a test or they come for therapy, or you go to their home versus them coming to a hospital.”

Littauer already has a head start on the Safe Patient Handling Act. The hospital formed a safe patient handling committee about three years ago, and has invested “thousands and thousands of dollars” on lift systems to move overweight and obese patients, Kelly said. Some rooms in the hospital are equipped with stationary lifts, while other lifts are portable.

“We all know that there are more people that weigh more than they did in the past,” Kelly said. “It’s so much more of a risk for our staff when you’re trying to move somebody who’s 400, 500 pounds, so we have to have this stuff to do it safely.”

Representatives from New York Oncology-Hematology, which has an office in Amsterdam, were not sure how much of the $25.3 million set aside for cancer services in the budget would be coming directly to them.

“We are pleased that this year’s state budget includes funding for cancer services,” Edwin T. Graham, Northeast regional senior vice president of the U.S. Oncology Network, said in an emailed statement. “It signals New York’s continued commitment to expanding access to vital screenings for early detection as well as continued cancer research.”

“Typically the state will use some of that money to expand access for people not eligible [for cancer care],” said Sarah Bilofsky, NYOH’s marketing director. “Obviously, any money set aside for research benefits everybody as well.”

According to Bilofsky, in late January NYOH announced a $3 million investment of its own money for the Amsterdam office to upgrade its radiation line.

The budget also includes $26.3 million for the WIC program. However, Fulton County WIC Director Stella Zanella did not have information about the funding and would not comment.

“I really haven’t heard anything about that,” she said.

Dave Jordan, executive director of the Montgomery County Office for Aging, said he was pleased with the funding allocated to EPIC and other senior services, in particular the $5 million alloted for the Community Services for the Elderly program.

“That’s a catch-all state program,” Jordan said. “That’s used for things like outreach.”

He estimated that his office would receive anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000.

“I think often senior issues don’t get on the front page, so they don’t get enough coverage, especially the EPIC program, where people don’t realize how much of someone’s income goes [to medication],” Jordan said.

The Office for Aging in Fulton County did not return phone calls seeking comment on the EPIC and senior services funding. St. Mary’s Healthcare also did not return phone calls seeking comment.