Florida Lawmakers look at budget cuts for health systems

Published: Updated:
Credit: WINK News.

UPDATE – May 3, 2021: Due to local and state advocacy, along with help from legislators, NCH says funding for Florida hospitals was fully restored in the final budget.

Southwest Florida hospitals warn of longer ER wait times and fewer nurses and doctors, as state lawmakers consider cutting Medicaid reimbursements.

In Collier County, NCH Healthcare System alone says it could lose out on $3 million in 2022 if it happens, and the budget cuts could cost Lee Health more than $20 million.

Many hospitals say, with the pandemic still in the present, now is not the time to make cuts.

At the onset of the pandemic, NCH staff members showed up in the face of many unknowns about the seriousness of the coronavirus.

“We really didn’t know how sick you could get and how serious this would be. But yet we had nurses and doctors show up every day to take care of our community,” said Paul Hiltz, the president and CEO of NCH. “They were here every day over the past year taking care of thousands of COVID-infected patients, so they truly are health care heroes.”

Even with a loss of more than $40 million, Hiltz said the hospital looks after its health care heroes, so they can look after you.

“We never did lay anybody off,” Hiltz said. “We didn’t cut people’s pay. We didn’t cut benefits. We didn’t furlough anybody.”

But that could change.

Florida House and Florida Senate budget bills both cut Medicaid reimbursement rates for hospitals to the tune of up to $500 million.

“Over 60% of a hospital’s budget is its payroll and the benefits for the nurses and the doctors and the dietitians and all the staff throughout the hospital,” said Mary Mayhew, the president and CEO of Florida Hospital Association.

The cuts go deeper than that.

“That does make it very difficult to preserve and support so many of the programs that hospitals are committed to, to improve health outcomes in their community,” Mayhew said. “It is going to have a ripple effect for all of those who depend on the hospital … Hospitals have to make decisions about what they can support locally, without losing more money.”

Hiltz says the news is sobering for staff.

“There’s a lot of emotion around it. We’ve been through a lot. I think our caregivers, in some sense, are exhausted,” Hiltz said. “They’ve questioned, ‘How could the state be looking at cutting our budget when we’ve just been through a global pandemic. We’re working so hard.’”

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