July 2, 2019 In The News

Hudson Valley 360: Health care committee identifies issues

CAIRO — A dearth of health care providers, drug addiction, federal funding for hospitals and public health insurance reimbursements are among the top health care issues facing the Twin Counties, according to a committee formed by U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19.

The congressman’s Health Care Advisory Committee includes more than 30 patients, providers and health-care advocates from around the 19th Congressional District. The group met at the 911 Center in Cairo on Monday to discuss the district’s top health care-related issues.

“Hearing directly from local health-care advocates, patients, hospital administrators and medical professionals allows us to discuss ways to truly make a difference when it comes to addressing rising health-care costs and accessibility, especially in our more rural areas,” Delgado said.

In addition to health care, Delgado formed three other committees to deal with issues related to veterans, agriculture and small business.

The health care committee will review and provide input on rising health care costs and related legislation. Monday’s meeting was the panel’s first.

“Ensuring upstate New Yorkers can afford quality coverage has been a top priority for me in Congress,” Delgado said. “That’s why I have supported legislation to lower the cost of prescription drugs and introduced the Medicare-X Choice Act, which would create a public option and drive down health care costs by introducing competition.”

Claire Parde, executive director of the Healthcare Consortium, which covers Greene and Columbia counties, attended Monday’s committee meeting and said one of the top issues facing the Twin Counties is the lack of health-care providers at all levels, from personal care assistants and home health aides to nurses and physicians.

“I am personally most concerned about the workforce,” Parde said. “That is my key concern at the moment because I believe workforce is probably one of the greatest limiting factors to delivery of services and if we don’t get a handle on workforce, we will begin to see services disappear. It’s a huge issue and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

The workforce problem is an issue in many areas of the country, “but the problem is particularly acute in rural areas,” Parde said.

Another issue facing rural hospitals in particular is the number of people with public insurance such as Medicare and Medicaid, she said.

“Many rural hospitals have a disproportionate share of public payers — they may have upwards of 70% of the population publicly insured and the rates are insufficient,” Parde said. “As a result, they have very low or even negative operating margins. The reimbursement rates from the public health insurance programs are insufficient to support costs.”

Obtaining federal funding for capital projects at hospitals is another issue that was discussed by the committee.

“Congressman Delgado signaled there is some hope for a bipartisan bill pertaining to infrastructure and so the participants in the advisory council expressed their hope that hospitals could be included in the bill and be eligible for funding for capital improvements,” Parde said. “This is particularly true in New York state and in the Northeast — a lot of our health infrastructure, like hospitals, are aging and in desperate need of upgrades, but there is very little funding to support that.”

The opioid epidemic was another topic raised by committee members, who also shared some of the initiatives that have been implemented locally to battle the problem.

Jay Cahalan, president and CEO of Columbia Memorial Health, is a member of the advisory committee but did not attend Monday’s meeting. Spokesman Bill Van Slyke said the goal is to work with Delgado on federal solutions to local problems.

“From our standpoint, it’s important for us to have a congressman develop federal solutions to some of the challenges that are specific to our area — access to primary care, access to specialty care,” Van Slyke said. “Those are areas where CMH is really focused. We are hoping to influence policy to allow us to do more and continue to allow people to have access to care close to home.”

Beth Schuster of Twin County Recovery Services is also a member of the Health Care Advisory Committee but said she did not attend Monday’s meeting.