TRENTON, N.J., May 12 More than 2,000 hospital employees, patients and others concerned about the future of health care in New Jersey converged on the State House today in the "Care Today, Gone Tomorrow" rally to restore deep funding cuts to hospitals and nursing homes.
Toting signs that read "Some Cuts Never Heal" and "Imagine a Day Without Us," supporters urged Gov. Corzine and state lawmakers to restore the $143 million in charity care cuts proposed in the state's 2009 budget. With New Jersey already in the grips of a hospital closure crisis, the cuts jeopardize future access to hospital care for all New Jerseyans.
Among the many attendees was Mary Anne Marra, RN, of Clifton. She formerly worked at Columbus Hospital in Newark, and she shared her own personal experiences as Columbus has prepared to close. Marra said she was fortunate to be offered a position within the same health system, but she worries that other hospital workers whose facilities close may not be so lucky.
"I know well the impact un-reimbursed charity care can have on hospitals struggling to survive," said Marra. "As a staff member of a struggling facility, you worry about your patients. You worry about what will happen to them if they lose access to healthcare. You worry about your job security and that of your colleagues. You wonder whether you will be able to provide for your family."
Betsy Ryan, president-designee of the New Jersey Hospital Association, praised that commitment by the state's hospitals and their dedicated employees.
"When our patients need help, they know where to turn -- to their local community hospital," said Ryan. "But for some hospitals, these cuts will make it very difficult to continue providing that care in the future."
Ryan noted that New Jersey has lost 30 percent of its hospitals in the last 15 years. Twenty-two hospitals have closed in that span, with six closures occurring in the last 18 months alone. Two more hospital closures are pending. Meanwhile, state Health Commissioner Heather Howard has acknowledged that an estimated six more hospitals are likely to close if the state's hospital cuts are approved. And of the 76 hospitals that remain, nearly half are losing money.
This year, those hospitals will provide approximately $1.3 billion in charity care services to New Jersey's 1.3 million uninsured residents. And they would be reimbursed just $573 million if the state's proposed cuts are approved.
Ryan said the charity care program was designed as a partnership between state government and hospitals -- a partnership that now has been compromised.
"We have always viewed our role as the safety net for the uninsured as a partnership -- or compact -- with the state. We provide the care, and all we ask is a fair level of payment in return. We have never asked for 100 percent reimbursement -- just fair payment. We view this budget proposal as a breach of that compact," said Ryan.
Rich Miller, chairman of the NJHA Board of Trustees and president and CEO of Virtua Health, also addressed the crowd.
"I am speaking on behalf of you who represent the 150,000 employees of hospitals and healthcare facilities throughout the state who provide services to persons in need every day," said Miller. "And I am speaking for the 8 million residents of New Jersey who depend upon all of us when they are sick and in need."
Miller pledged NJHA's support in working with Gov. Corzine and state lawmakers to expand health coverage to more New Jerseyans. But until that happens, Miller said, the state must fulfill its obligation to the state's 1.3 million uninsured residents and the hospitals that care for them.
"Together with our state's leaders, we need to find the ways to insure all t