August 23, 2012

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Community concerns fuel ongoing Kingston area hospital forum

HealthAlliance President/CEO David Lundquist and
Board Chairwoman Cynthia Lowe, wrangle with
difficult issues, including abortion services

KINGSTON -- Assemblyman Kevin Cahill hosted his third community forum Wednesday night, for the public to air its concerns about the pending closure of Kingston Hospital.

Benedictine and Kingston hospitals, both located in the City of Kingston, were merged into HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley in 2007, when the Pataki-appointed Berger Commission mandated downsizing of hospital bed capacity throughout New York State.   At the time, Benedictine was directly threatened with closure, because the Catholic-run campus prohibits abortion and related services – deemed by law to be an essential reproductive right for women.

Five years later, fiscal shortfalls are causing the HealthAlliance to consolidate resources, and shut down Kingston Hospital instead. Officials announced the decision in July. This leaves Benedictine as the surviving facility, and officials are being questioned about the sectarian implications.

“The campus that we use as a single site will have the ability to provide all levels of reproductive services, including terminations,” according to HealthAlliance Board Chairwoman Cynthia Lowe. “We have to be able to have a full service facility in this community, and it will be the surviving entity.  That's why it can't be Catholic.”

Benedictine is expected to be renamed, and the religious sisters who currently run the Catholic facility will no longer be in control of the future campus.

“We tried our best in this community to maintain two missions; it didn't work,” Lowe said.  “Did anybody here predict that recession? Did anybody have any idea how intense and long term and how much it was going to impact all our lives? None of us knew that, but that’s one of the things we are all dealing with, and we deal with it in our daily lives and we deal with it in the life of the hospital, and we will continue to do that.”

Lowe said the choice now is how to make one hospital survive to provide health care for the community.

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who organized the forum said there will
be at least two more. Also speaking are David Lundquist, president
of HealthAlliance, and Board Chairwoman Cynthia Lowe

Many criticized the panel, accusing them of mismanagement and breaking promises, asking particularly how reproductive services will be maintained. Foxhall Ambulatory Services Center, the quasi-independent HealthAlliance affiliate, currently has no doctor to perform abortions.

The panel responded that Kingston's last abortion doctor retired, and a replacement could not be found. Lowe also noted HealthAlliance rarely hires doctors themselves, but rather makes medical resources available for area specialists and practitioners.

“It is encouraging that the number of abortion providers nationally is dropping, and 92 percent of counties in New York State do not have an abortion provider,” wrote Archbishop Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, in a recent letter to a local resident circulated at the meeting.

An equal number of people commenting at the session were pro-life, and wondered why abortion services are mandated, while pediatrics surgery isn't. Child surgery is not available in Ulster County.

Federal Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates were discussed in relation to the ability of local hospitals to remain fiscally solvent. The Metropolitan Statistical Area is based on a wage index, and prejudices Ulster County's rural median income, some said.

“Efforts have been made to right that wrong,” noted HealthAlliance President/CEO David Lundquist, calling the matter a difficult political issue. “Probably we do not see anything in the future, as far as any additional development,” he said of the MSA controversy.

Cahill plans on holding at least two more forums at an unspecified later date.


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