Community Health Planning: Now As Important As Ever

This post features guest author and ally, Judy Wessler of the Commission on the Public’s Health System (CPHS), which has fought for years to preserve and expand New York’s health care safety net.  CPHS just released a new Report on Charity Care Payments to New York City Hospitals that readers of this blog are encouraged to look at.  In addition to the lack of community health planning, the method by which charity care dollars are distributed in New York State critically impacts which hospitals remain financially healthy and which ones — usually the ones providing care to the must vulnerable — do not.  If you are interested in getting a copy of the report, please contact Judy by clicking here.

Some people still laugh when some of us talk about the need for community-based health planning.  But the way things are going in this city, particularly with the threat of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan closing, we should be doing something.  St. Vincent’s is the only hospital on the West Side of Manhattan until 59th Street and it has a very active Emergency Room which is very much needed, along with other special programs.  One wishes that many voices now heard for St. V’s would have been heard when the St. Vincent Catholic Medical Center was off-shedding their other hospitals, most located in medically underserved communities of color.  Many communities that need services were stripped of those services – in Central Brooklyn, Southeast Queens, the North Shore of Staten Island.  Intervention is important – and oversight is even more important.  It was well-known that there were serious questions about the competence of the people and the companies that ran the St. Vincent Catholic Medical Center.  One wonders if there was ever a tally of what was spent by these hospitals in the bankruptcy court – millions upon millions of dollars.

This brings us back to the need for health planning.  If services are going to be increased or reduced, it is critical for communities and health care workers to know about this and have a say in what happens.  But this is not what is happening.  The state had an opportunity to fund some community-based planning with HEAL/FSHRP state/federal dollars.   An RFP was released to set up pilot projects to demonstrate what could be done with planning efforts.  Unfortunately, at least in New York City, the State Health Department chose the winners, and almost all of them are health care providers.  Does anyone know what is happening in these demonstrations?  Is any information available to the public?  Has anyone been invited to join in these efforts?  Surely it is time to go back to the drawing boards and come up with better solutions.  We need involvement of communities to ensure that there is not another St. Vincent’s problem.  We also need the State Health Department to be more involved in the monitoring of hospitals and their continuing viability.  The department needs to step in and act.  There are other hospitals that are financially SHAKY right now.  Some of them may be needed where they are located.  We should not have to wait for an announcement that XXXX hospital is going to close or go into bankruptcy.

More soon on what else could, and should be done.  We would welcome your ideas as well – and circulate those ideas that could work.

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