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Don't cripple state hospitals

March 21, 2011

Newsday Editorial

Even in this tough fiscal time, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposal to zero out state funding for Stony Brook University Medical Center, along with the State University of New York's two other public hospitals, is hard to justify.

The governor's proposed hits include $55 million at Stony Brook, $35 million at Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn and $37.3 million at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. That money helps these public teaching hospitals provide the kind of services that other hospitals find too expensive to offer -- though it doesn't come close to covering all the costs of these services. Stony Brook calculates that they cost $90 million, compared with the state's funding of $55 million.

What are these costly services? At Stony Brook, there's the trauma unit, for example, and the burn unit, which serves volunteer firefighters and those whose lives they save. If that burn unit were to close, there's nothing operating in Suffolk that could replace it. The same is true of the child psychiatric unit, which offers a wider array of services to mentally ill children and their families than other programs in Suffolk. And the hospital, like any public hospital, also serves the poor. Stony Brook is the only public hospital in all of Suffolk County.

Similarly, Upstate is the public hospital for a vast swath of New York, from Canada to Pennsylvania, the trauma center for 17 counties, the burn center for 34 counties, the poison control center for 55 counties.

If these cuts make it into the final budget, the hospitals' executives would have to make tough choices to close entire units. Worse, in the case of Upstate, the hospital would run out of cash in early 2012.

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