July 25, 2008

For Some Long Island Hospitals, Berger Commission’s a Hit

By Alison Snyder

Adhering to Berger Commission recommendations has helped nurse many Long Island hospitals back to health.

Among them is Nassau Health Care Corp., which followed the commission's request that it cut 300 beds at its A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility and 100 beds at Nassau University Medical Center.

Arthur Gianelli, chief executive at NHCC, said his system has made progress on every recommendation made by the Berger Commission, officially the Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century.

For instance, NHCC got approval for construction on a new A. Holly Patterson facility on June 30.

As a reward for following the commission's recommendations, the state has given NHCC $14 million for downsizing and for the new construction. New York is also chipping in $23 million for debt retirement and construction at NUMC.

Gianelli said the cash infusion and recommendations have helped NHCC become financially solvent. This year, he said the nursing home would make a profit of between $1 million and $2 million. Two years ago it operated with a $7 million annual loss.

Separately, the Berger Commission recommended that three East End hospitals strike an administrative alliance - and that's exactly what happened on June 20 when Peconic Bay Medical Center, Eastern Long Island Hospital and Southampton Hospital formed the East End Health Alliance. A parent board now governs the three hospitals.

"The Berger Commission was certainly the carrot and stick that nudged the hospitals together," said Southampton chief executive Robert Chaloner.

The Alliance is already reaping a financial benefit from the combination. Together, the three hospitals lost $8 million in 2007. Now, the hospitals are able to negotiate higher reimbursement rates from insurers and lower prices for supplies and equipment.

Alliance Chairman Stephen Sharpoff said he expects Peconic and ELIH to become profitable by the end of the year, with Southampton turning a profit by the end of 2009. The state gave the Alliance a $14 million grant to help them form the health system, and Sharpoff said they've applied for more.

But leaders in the health care industry say more needs to be done.

"I think everybody who was involved in the Berger endeavor would agree that it wasn't the beginning and the end of the analysis, that it was really the first step," said George Farrell, chair of the Long Island Regional Advisory Committee for the Berger Commission.

The government needs to take a look at how well or how poorly the recommendations turned out, and evaluate whether additional changes should be made in an evolving health care system, Farrell said.

The state health department still has almost $1 billion in its coffers to help implement reforms. It issued a request for proposals this month to distribute $6 million for local health planning efforts, and in September it will give out $150 million in grants to promote mergers, affiliations and join service planning.

Originally published by Alison Snyder.

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