Helping to alleviate possible cuts in services and jobs, the Suffolk County Legislature has agreed to restore an additional $165,000 in state imposed funding cuts to the Dolan Family Health Center.
The resolution, sponsored by county legislators Lou D’Amaro, D-Huntington Station, and Kate Browning, WFP-Shirley, was unanimously approved June 21 by the Legislature.
The bill is part of ongoing negotiatons between six contracted family health centers and the state, which recently determined that some services submitted by the county facilities were not permissible. The new policy of equal budget reductions comes on the heels of $300,000 in emergency stop-gap funding for both Dolan and the Elsie Owens North Brookhaven Family Health Center two weeks ago.
Huntington Hospital gets $2.8 million in state funding annually to fund the Dolan Center. A cut in funds could have meant bigger waits for emergency services at the hospital, according to Justin Littell, D'Amaro's chief of staff.
"If Huntington (emergency room patients) didn't go to Dolan, they would be clogging up the Huntington Hospital," said Littell.
Littell said the Dolan Center was not in danger of being closed, but cuts to services and jobs were possible if money was not restored.
The recent flurry of legislation has been in response to the the state department of health’s $15 million “claw back” of funding for critical health care services. The Dolan Center was disproportionately impacted by the State claw back, and stood to lose $1.1 million prior to the passage of D’Amaro’s bills. The reduction has been nearly halved to $635,000.
D'Amaro said the situation requires shared sacrifice."The passage of this bill accomplishes that goal and guarantees that none of the county’s health centers will be forced to close.”
Dolan, which serves 9,100 patients annually, was targeted to lose 40 percent of its annual allocation of Suffolk County funding. The new bill reduces the cuts to approximately 20 percent for all county centers.
"Over 9,000 uninsured and working poor individuals from the Township of Huntington who rely on the Dolan Family Health Center are no less deserving of county support for their health center than are the folks who rely on health centers in other Long Island townships," said Terrence Smith, the Dolan Health Center Administrator
The bill gives the health commissioner the discretion to administer the balanced reductions and move funding around as needed to allow all county health centers to remain open. It also makes clear that any new funds received by the county from the state for previously rendered patient services shall be shared equitably among the County’s centers. This clause ensures that none of the centers will be shortchanged if the county is successful in its ongoing negotiations with the state for more restorations.
“From day one, there has been a broad consensus in the Legislature that financial cuts to our health centers had to be of an equal percentage across-the-board in order to be fair and equitable,” said Legislative Majority Leader Jon Cooper, D- Lloyd Harbor.
“This is an important initiative to enable the Dolan Family Health Center to continue serving the needs of our community,” added Legislator Steve Stern, D-Huntington.
Stern said the failure of New York State to properly fund the Dolan Center is grossly irresponsible and places our community at risk.
The Dolan debate will come back again in November when the 2012 operating budget is voted on and negotiations are underway to possibly restore even more funding, according to Littell.
"I urge state lawmakers to restore funding to Suffolk County immediately so that our health centers can continue to operate at the highest level and protect the health of our most vulnerable citizens,” said Stern.
The equitable funding cuts bill now goes before County Executive Levy, who is expected to sign the resolution into law.