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Facing a possible $1 million deficit: Highlands asking community for help

| Saturday, Aug. 30, 2003

Administrators and employees of a local hospital are asking members of the community to reach out to their legislators in an effort to get desperately needed medical reimbursement payments reinstated in the state budget.

Michelle Cunningham, chief executive officer of Highlands Hospital, Connellsville, said if the Medical Assistance Disproportionate Share payments aren't brought back, the facility will face a nearly $1 million deficit in its budget, which would be difficult to recover. The legislature is scheduled to reconvene in early September.

Medical Assistance Disproportionate Share payments are funds the state reimburses to hospitals that provide care to a high percentage of Medicaid patients, or those that don't have health insurance, because of the limited amount of reimbursements they receive from Medicaid itself.

For instance, Cunningham said, Highlands only receives 75 cents for every dollar spent on inpatient care from Medicaid and an even lesser amount on outpatient services.

"When they cut that out of the budget, they are severely harming hospitals (like Highlands) that provide that care," said Cunningham.

The $250 million in Disproportionate Share payments cut from the state's budget won't affect just Highlands, but hundreds of other community hospitals across the state that offer these services.

"They need to reinstate the payments not just for Highlands Hospital, but other hospitals as well," said Cunningham. "I would hope that legislators wake up and stop cutting money from hospitals that really count on those funds."

If the payments aren't brought back, Highlands will have to find some way to recoup the hundreds of thousands of dollars it has already spent on providing the care, which could mean cutting services that the hospital provides, said Cunningham.

"This will have a negative impact on the residents of Connellsville," she said.

With 300 employees, Highlands Hospital is the second largest employer in Connellsville. Because of the concern over this issue, the union that represents the employees is joining administrators in their quest to see the payments reinstated by releasing a message to the community, which was distributed in Tuesday's edition of the Daily Courier.

"Our community has a large percentage of elderly and unemployed citizens who depend on the medical assistance programs to pay for their health care services," stated the message from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO. "During the past 20 years, we have survived divestiture from the state and a failed merger with another hospital, yet the current crisis we face is our most critical challenge to date."

While the hospital has dispensed millions of dollars in free care, offered wellness programs and a variety of new services for the community, it has only received a fraction of what it costs to provide the care.

The union's message was clear that if the cuts are implemented in October, the continuation of high-cost services like emergency room and inpatient care will be threatened.

"To be frank, we find it difficult to imagine that we could continue to provide the services our community deserves with any further payment reductions. This domino effect on this city would be economically devastating," stated the union's message.

The union asks that members of the community show their concern over the cuts by contacting Gov. Ed Rendell at 717-787-2500, and the local offices of state legislators Sen. Richard Kasunic at 724-626-1611, Rep. Jim Shaner at 724-547-4057 and Rep. Larry Roberts at 724-439-2329.

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