NEW YORK NURSE: December 2009
by Mark Genovese
The tough economy is stressing the budgets of counties, which are looking desperately for ways to balance their budgets. One target has been community-based primary health care. In two counties, NYSNA has taken the lead in campaigning to keep these community centers open.
NYSNA staff and members took part in a rally on Nov. 12 in downtown Buffalo to oppose planned cuts to primary healthcare services at the Jesse E. Nash Health Center and the Dr. Matt Gajewski Human Services Center.
The county executive has eliminated funds in his 2010 budget that will force the closing of these two clinics. With 22,000 visits per year, the clinics have served the poor and the under-insured for more than 30 years, helping to prevent disease by providing a variety of vital healthcare services.
More than 20 NYSNA members took part in the protest before the start of a county budget hearing. “Our point here is that this is the third poorest city in the nation,” said Dennis Lindell, Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) bargaining unit president, told reporters. “Taking two clinics in the poorest part of the city and closing them down forces these people to go to ECMC for their primary care. That’s going to overtax an already overburdened system.”
Despite valiant efforts by members of NYSNA and the surrounding community, in mid-December Suffolk County closed its health center in Central Islip.
The closure, which was strongly opposed by the county legislature, was authorized by the New York State Department of Health on a request from County Executive Steve Levy. Levy had removed funding for the clinic from his proposed 2010 budget, which later was restored by the legislature. When he vetoed their action, they overrode the veto.
NYSNA Secretary Mary Finnin led the effort to keep the clinic open. She argued that the county’s plan to send patients to the Brentwood Health Center didn’t take into account the transportation issues of many patients and the severe overcrowding and understaffing that already exists at the clinic.
“Residents already complain of long waits for appointments and care at Brentwood. To transfer more than 3,500 patients will make problems worse,” Finnin said.
Although no formal public hearing was held on the issue, Finnin attended every meeting of the legislature to advocate for the low-income patients who received care at Central Islip. NYSNA CEO Tina Gerardi sent a letter to the state health department expressing the association’s concerns about the loss of healthcare services in Suffolk County.
The Central Islip clinic served people without health insurance and low-income populations enrolled in public programs. Finnin noted that local governments across the state are eliminating community health centers that serve the poor and uninsured, while using money collected from Medicare and Medicaid insurance fraud for other purposes. “Any money collected should be put back into the healthcare programs for which it was intended,” she said.