WCA/HVEDC Event Explored Key NY Health Care Issues

John Jordan | April 2019

TARRYTOWN—The Westchester County Association and Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation held its “All Access Healthcare: Inside the Key Issues Facing New York State” event on April 3 at the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown to discuss important issues that impact the region’s hospital and healthcare system, and the direct impacts of those issues on the local business community.

The organizations partnered with the Healthcare Association of New York State Trustee Association, which is comprised of hospital board members who are business and community leaders.

“We at the WCA are very passionate about doing everything we can to make sure our healthcare sector remains strong,” said WCA President and CEO William M. Mooney, Jr. “The healthcare sector is a regional combined engine of almost $18 billion that employs over 50,000 employees. … My hope is that once we are all educated, we will come together as the business and the healthcare community and storm the halls of Albany to let the legislators hear from a unified voice.”

Bea Grause, president of the Healthcare Association of New York State, provided an update on the recently passed state budget to an audience of more than 160 at the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown.

“For healthcare, it was a very good result,” she said. “As you may remember there was a $2.3-billion budget hole announced in late January and we had to work hard to close that hole. We protested against those cuts and those cuts were largely restored. Good news for now, but I don’t think it will last due to the increasing pressures that the state has in part due to what is happening at the federal level.”

Grause noted the state is facing key healthcare issues going forward and explained what is driving the state’s healthcare economy. She said there’s an aging population and a growing epidemic of chronic illness (such as diabetes, obesity, cardiac disease and Alzheimer’s disease). New issues, such as the opioid epidemic, are challenging the industry. The industry is also continuing to evolve as technology is decentralizing healthcare from the doctor’s office or the hospital to the home. She also noted the dynamic of a changing State Legislature (including 15 new state senators), which is unified and aggressively tackling big issues.

The state is considering mandated nurse staffing ratios, which would impose nurse-to-patient ratios in every New York hospital and nursing home, regardless of size, location or the needs of their patients and overriding the judgment of individual healthcare professionals.

“Rigid government-mandated nurse staffing ratios does not equal patient safety,” she said.

Panel participants, while sensitive to the needs of nurses, said the cost of implementing the mandated staffing ratios would be extreme.

A group of patient-focused healthcare and other organizations, including the Westchester County Association, has formed The Coalition for Safe & Affordable Care. These organizations believe nurse staffing ratios would have the opposite intended effect, and negatively impact healthcare by creating steep increases in staffing costs that will force hospitals and long-term care facilities to close and reduce access to care and services, among other items.

Nurse-patient staffing ratio and single-payer legislation were the subject of a panel facilitated by Kevin Dahill, president and CEO of The Suburban Alliance. In addition to Grause, panelists included Daniel Blum, president and CEO, Phelps Hospital and Normet Chair; Eric Linzer, president and CEO, NY Health Plan Association; and Dan Cence, executive vice president, Solomon and McCown.

Cence led a campaign against similar proposed state legislation in Massachusetts, rallying the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association and is now helping the New York coalition.

“Legislators need to hear from trusted leaders in their communities,” he said. “You need to tell them, ‘You need to stop this and this is why.’”

Less than a week after the event, members of the New York State Nurses Association announce a tentative agreement with Mount Sinai, Montefiore and New York Presbyterian hospitals systems.

The contract is a four-year agreement that expires on Dec. 31, 2022.

The tentative agreement announced on April 9 includes historic staffing ratio language calling for the initial hiring of more than 1,450 nurses. The initial hires will include nurses to fill current vacancies, and will also include an additional $100 million to hire nurses for newly added full-time positions. Registered nurse staffing will be based on safe staffing ratios that will be included in the collective bargaining agreements and enforced by an independent neutral party.

The contract also includes across the board wage increases of 3% in each year of the contract and full retro-pay. For all facilities, the contract calls for millions of dollars for retiree health benefits, tuition reimbursement as well as other monetary benefits. The tentative agreement strengthens worker protections including new guidelines to stop workplace violence, a process to improve safe patient handling, and language allowing nurses to aid victims of disasters inside or outside the United States.

The WCA-HVEDC conference also discussed the single-payer legislation (New York Health Care Act – government-run healthcare). Linzer said his concern with implementing this legislation is that it will result in a disruption in health coverage for millions of New Yorkers and create massive tax increases for residents and businesses in New York State. The proposal would also impact the healthcare delivery system and specifically doctors, hospitals, administrators and nurses who will feel the change directly.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth