By Jeanne Sager
HARRIS July 19, 2002 Art Brien isnt ready to give in without a fight.
The president of Catskill Regional Medical Center (CRMC) has been hard at work to fight legislation in conference committee in the U.S. Congress that would cut the Harris and Callicoon facilities out of a local pool that refunds hospitals for Medicare services.
The legislation, currently being sponsored by Congresswoman Sue Kelly, a Republican from Katonah in Dutchess County, would keep Sullivan and Ulster counties out of a federal reimbursement plan, Brien said.
Thirty-six of 40 hospitals in the region are being considered for inclusion in the wage index plan. CRMC is one of the only four that have been overlooked.
And that, Brien said, is just not fair.
According to the CRMC CEO, the federal government lines up hospitals with other facilities in the same geographic area to determine what kind of wages they will have to pay.
We were historically linked with Orange County and other mid-Hudson hospitals that have to compete with New York [City] hospitals, Brien explained. Our wages were inflated a small percent to make up for the fact that we have to compete.
The federal reimbursement plan enables CRMC to offer competitive salaries to medical staff, keeping them in Sullivan County to offer area residents and summer visitors the best quality care available.
If that funding changes, Brien said, than CRMC would be left behind the pack. To the Sullivan County facility, losing the reimbursement would mean losing close to $2.5 million each year.
Whats happened is with the scarcity of RNs, radiology technicians and lots of other people in the medical field, they are offering more money and sort of poaching our employees, Brien said of other hospitals in the mid-Hudson region.
What this does is make it much more difficult to keep adequate staff here.
At a press conference held Monday in Kingston, State Senators John Bonacic and William Larkin, as well as State Assemblymen Jake Gunther and Kevin Cahill, vowed to fight federal action that could adversely affect hospitals within Sullivan and Ulster counties.
Congressman Maurice Hinchey joined their voices to fight exclusion of the two counties.
According to Brien, U.S. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer have also been contacted as a means to stem off the legislative impacts on CRMC.
They either have to put us in the pool or take everyone out, Brien said. Our expectation is that our population is about to grow, and this will make it tough on us on an ongoing basis to serve our patients.
Brien is asking residents who are concerned with the legislation to contact their representatives in Washington, D.C.