An Op-ed By State Senator Shirley Huntley

Shirley L. Huntley

April 16, 2007

When I went to Albany on Day One, I went there with the understanding that sometimes I may agree with my colleagues and sometimes I may not.

But I also went to Albany knowing that at the end of the day I am the only State Senator for the 10th Senate District of Queens and it’s my responsibility to fight for you, even if that means disagreeing with the Governor, the State Legislature, the advocates, special interests or anyone else for that matter.

So when it came to the healthcare budget and balancing the need to reform New York’s healthcare system with the desire to make certain healthcare cuts, I put all my energy into doing what I thought was right for you, even if that meant sometimes disagreeing with my colleagues.

For example, the Governor’s healthcare reform plan – most of which I support – is based on finally putting people first, but it also called for some cuts to our local hospitals that I felt needed to be restored.

So I did exactly what any good representative of the people should do. I worked with our Governor to push through much-needed health care reforms, while ensuring that your interests were put ahead of all other interests.

With the help of Governor Eliot Spitzer and our Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm A. Smith, we put patients in our community first by allocating more healthcare dollars based on the needs of patients. We put our children first by expanding Child Health Plus to families up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, so we can insure nearly all of New York’s 400,000 uninsured children, including many who live in our community.

We put our uninsured adults first, now helping an additional 900,000 people obtain and retain Medicaid coverage. We put our sick friends, family members and neighbors first by investing $200 million on disease prevention and primary care that includes treatments for diabetes, obesity, asthma and even cancer. And we put our seniors and disabled first by putting more money into home and community care, while improving programs designed to help our most vulnerable citizens.

Those are just a few of the many positive health care reforms we in the State Legislature, along with the Governor, agreed to make in this year’s budget.

But, as I mentioned earlier, I also had to fight to restore some cuts that would have severely impacted our health care facilities like Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, Parkway Hospital and St. Vincent’s Hospital. In my opinion, those cuts would have hurt our local healthcare services – something I simply could not allow to happen.

In order to truly put the people of Queens first, I knew I had to fight to restore $5.37 million to hospitals in the 10th Senate District to help better serve our healthcare needs. In fact, we actually added an extra $910,000 to improve what is often a weak healthcare safety net for those who need it most.

Specifically, Jamaica Hospital will receive $801,000 in additional Medicaid revenue to cover the increased costs of providing healthcare, and $1.7 million drawn from a new $38 million funding pool directed exclusively to New York City voluntary hospitals. Parkway Hospital will receive $305,000 in additional Medicaid revenue and $195,000 from that same voluntary hospital funding pool. And we also successfully restored 75 percent of the proposed cuts for St. Vincent’s Hospital, putting over $6 million back for healthcare services back into our community.

We also needed to fight for our local nursing homes, restoring $2.9 million in local cuts and even adding $692,000 in order to reflect the rising costs of providing nursing home care, while adding $249,000 in quality improvement grants for the next fiscal year.

Although the prospects didn’t always look bright, we in Queens can feel good about the final budget agreement, knowing that we made some critical improvements to a healthcare system on life support, while still providing the necessary short-term resuscitation to keep the hospitals in our local community alive and our community a little healthier.

State Senator Shirley Huntley represents the 10th State Senate District in Queens. She is the Ranking Democrat on the Senate's Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee.