Many breathed a sigh of relief when Congress approved legislation that staved off the “fiscal cliff” earlier this month.
But for programs at one local hospital, it was almost a salvation — the legislation includes $1.7 million in health care funding directed primarily toward senior citizens.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-NY, gathered with about 80 staff members at St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam on Thursday to recount successful last-minute lobbying that preserved critical money for 25 rural New York hospitals including St. Mary’s.
Two funding streams were on the chopping block as the fiscal cliff loomed: the Medicare-Dependent Hospital Program and the Low Volume Hospital Program.
St. Mary’s, designated as one of the state’s seven Medicare-Dependent hospitals, would have lost $1.67 million, but Schumer said he and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, demanded this program and the Low Volume Hospital Program, which adds funding for 18 New York hospitals.
The “bean counters,” Schumer said, declared these funding streams looked like a “good place to cut.”
“It really hurt New York state,” he said.
Schumer said he dropped an ultimatum during discussions: “If you leave this out we’re not voting for it.”
The money was put back into the budget at the last minute, he said, and both programs are now extended for a year. They expired in September, so St. Mary’s and the other institutions will be getting retroactive money, he said.
St. Mary’s Hospital’s service area has a large senior population, and a major funding cut would mean bad news not only for them but also for the hospital’s staff — lost funding could mean lost positions, hospital CEO Vic Giulianelli said.
“Our community cannot afford to lose 40 jobs,” Giulianelli said, declaring Schumer a “relentless champion” on behalf of senior citizens.
Amsterdam native Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said legislators continue to fight in Congress over critical funding meant to support the country’s most vulnerable.
“There are those in Washington today that won’t understand the merits of programs like this,” he said. “We need to respond to those needs.”