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Hospitals worry proposed cuts may be crippling

Two of the borough’s private hospitals have some tough decisions to make as to which services to cut after Gov. David Paterson unveiled his proposal to slash $700 million to institutions statewide.

Terry Lynam, spokesman for the North Shore−Long Island Jewish Health System, said Paterson’s recommendations would cost the health system $51 million if enacted.

“The hospitals recognize that they have to bear some of the burden, but we believe that the governor’s proposed cuts and the health care taxes go beyond what’s reasonable and fair,” he said.

The largest impact on the health system would be LIJ, which Lynam said would see an $11 million cut, followed by North Shore University Hospital at $9 million. Forest Hills Hospital, also part of the health system, would be facing a $1.3 million cut, he said.

The health system recorded a $56 million profit in 2007, or 1 percent of its operating margin, meaning Paterson’s cuts would virtually cause LIJ to break even this year, Lynam said. North Shore−LIJ’s profits are pumped into capital and new construction projects.

He said those figures are among the best of the state’s hospitals and Lynam pointed out that the governor’s proposal would be more dire to hospitals that are not as financially sound.

“If it’s going to affect us to the point where we’re breaking even, what is the effect to other hospitals?” he said.

Flushing Hospital, Jamaica Hospital and Mary Immaculate Hospital could not be reached for comment.

Stephen Mills, chairman and chief executive officer of New York Hospital Queens, said Paterson’s budget would cost the hospital $9.5 million.

“It’s tremendous because we’ve taken so many reductions from both the Medicaid and Medicare programs,” he said. “The impact will be programmatic.”

That figure does not include Silvercrest Nursing Home, which NYHQ manages. Mills said the nursing home would take a $2 million hit.

If Paterson’s budget goes through, Mills said the hospital will have to take a look at cutting clinical programs, such as preventive medicine outreach with seniors.

“We’re just going to have to restrict access to programs in the community,” he said.

Like North Shore−LIJ, NYHQ also made a profit last year — about 2 percent to 2.5 percent of its operating margin, Mills said.

The funding for the hospital’s project to build a new wing of the facility, set to open in 2010, has been secured, Mills said, but the $1 million−a−month budget that goes with it may be affected.

Both Lynam and Mills pointed to the political structure in Albany as being a roadblock to seeing changes from Paterson’s budget.

When then−Gov. Eliot Spitzer proposed health care cuts, the industry had Republicans, who controlled the state Senate then and are allied with the state’s health care lobby and labor unions, to fight for them.

But now that Paterson is governor and the state Senate will have a Democratic majority when the state Legislature acts on the governor’s budget next year, hospitals will not have the same kind of support at the negotiating table.

“We don’t expect a lot of relief because of both houses of the Legislature and the governor being Democratic,” Mills said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 173.

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