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St. Mary’s prez fears budget cuts to hospital

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The tone of Queens College’s monthly Business Forum series reflected the dire economic state of the country as the head of St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children joined elected officials in expressing his concern that state medical funds for the young could be cut in the midst of the Wall Street fiscal crisis.

Burton Grebin, president of St. Mary’s, headlined the forum Friday at Queens College in Flushing and discussed children’s programs at the Bayside medical facility, including AIDS research and a project focusing on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He also described the recent treatment of Duaa Al Ghaithi, a 6−year−old girl badly burned during an East Harlem gas explosion last fall and released from the hospital to her family in August.

But Grebin said he was concerned that money for children’s health care could dry up as the state and country face a struggling economy.

“The challenges we face today are greater than they’ve ever been,” Grebin said. “The tumultuous economy is not something we thought would happen as it did. We are looking at more children in need of services but less money. And more of those children need more services.”

City Councilman David Weprin (D−Hollis) said health care is often one of the prime budgetary casualties during an economic downturn.

“Sometimes, health care is one of the first areas that are cut and that shouldn’t be the case,” he said. “It’s an area of importance across all backgrounds and religions.”

State Sen. Kemp Hannon (R−Garden City), acting chairman of the Senate’s Health Budget Subcommittee, said the state’s deficit during the next three years was forecast to be $26 billion and that state revenues could drop by $3 billion during the next year and a half.

“We haven’t seen anything like this before — not in the bankruptcies of the 1970s and not after 911,” he said, referring to the city’s fiscal crisis in the 1970s and the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “People will want to start making cuts because they are not able to see programatic importance. We have to see what can be put off and what can’t be put off.”

Grebin said he thought it was important for the private sector to partner with organizations like St. Mary’s if state government is forced to prioritize in its budget.

The Queens College Business Forum is a monthly breakfast series that features some of the most prominent businessmen and women in the borough speaking about ventures and the state of the city economy.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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