Ominous news about job losses and financial woes at Minnesota hospitals over the last week coincide with Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s line-item veto of $381 million in General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) grants and his vow to make even more cuts by unallotment. But as bad as the doomsday scenarios are, they shouldn’t include St. Paul’s Regions Hospital closing — a prospect that the DFL warned of over the weekend.
Here are some headlines from the last week that, to some at least, read like plot lines for a series-ending episode of TV’s “House” doctor drama, if not a medical prequel to the post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” movies.
» Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) in Minneapolis will lay off 100 staffers.
» Park Nicollet Health Services lays off 240 and closes a clinic in Hopkins. The owner of Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park has already laid off more than twice that number over the last six months.
» Willmar’s Rice Memorial Hospital continues to shed staff. Layoffs have left the city-owned hospital with its smallest workforce in a decade.
» In rural areas of the state, doctors are scarce. Health care organizations must dangle bonuses to attract debt-laden med school grads to the hinterlands.
» Losing patients, North Memorial Health Care is cutting 100 jobs. A 6-percent decline in stays at the Robbinsdale hospital hides one area in which business is up by 22 percent: charity care.
» Two metro hospitals that care for the poor — Regions in St. Paul and HCMC in Minneapolis — will make deep cuts. HCMC Medical Director Michael Belzer says revisiting state cuts during the 2010 Legislative session will be too late, as hospitals will have set budgets and take actions necessary to meet them by then.
But Regions is not in danger of closing its doors, contrary to a DFL Party announcement (see below) from the closing days of the legislative session.
“That’s not going to happen,” Regions spokesman Vince Rivard told the Minnesota Independent on Monday, adding that a hospital expansion financed with St. Paul municipal bonds is still set to open this summer.
Still a variety of program cuts at Regions and even imposition of new, restrictive geographical boundaries are possible, Rivard said. The hospital sees patients from as far away as Montana but is only obligated to provide Ramsey County residents with non-emergency services.
And Rivard agreed with HCMC’s Belzer that fixes the Legislature next year makes to the governor’s vetos would come too late to forestall drastic cutbacks.
Here’s the press release from the DFL House DFL Caucus that asserted that Regions Hospital could close. It was sent out Saturday, midway between Pawlenty’s Thursday night line-item veto of GAMC and the end of the Legislative session Monday night.
Minnesota House of Representatives
May 16, 2009
PAWLENTY VETO MAY RESULT IN FULL OR PARTIAL CLOSURE OF REGIONS HOSPITAL
Local lawmakers speak out against Governor Pawlenty’s deep cuts to
After announcing Thursday he plans to make billions of dollars in
budget cuts alone without public or legislative input, Governor Tim
Pawlenty eliminated General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) in Minnesota.
With one line item veto late Thursday night, the governor cut $381
million that was dedicated exclusively to treat the poorest people in
the state – including veterans, senior citizens, and the mentally ill.
Those cuts may result in the full or partial closure of Regions
Hospital in St. Paul. By eliminating GAMC, the hospital will face a $46
million budget cut – 10% of its gross revenue. Regions Hospital employs
roughly 5,000 people and serves nearly 23,000 patients every year.
The following is a statement from local state lawmakers deeply
concerned about these devastating cuts to Regions Hospital and the
potential impact on residents of St. Paul and the surrounding suburbs:
“Governor Pawlenty’s veto pen single-handedly put Regions Hospital in
St. Paul at serious risk of significantly cutting back critical services
or potentially closing its doors. This is a devastating blow to tens of
thousands of citizens in St. Paul and the surrounding communities who
rely on Regions Hospital for quality, expert medical care. It has
threatened thousands of jobs, and the health and safety of our
This deep and devastating cut could have been avoided. Lawmakers
offered a responsible alternative that would have cut Regions Hospital
only $5.7 million – a budget reduction the hospital could have sustained
without significantly drawing back critical medical services to our
By eliminating GAMC, Governor Pawlenty has cut 30,000 of Minnesota’s
poorest, sickest citizens off health care. Many are veterans, senior
citizens, people with mentally illness, or those who are homeless. 70%
have expensive mental health or chemical dependency challenges, and 40%
have chronic disease that leads to frequent hospitalization. Without
care, these Minnesotans will be at risk of devastating health
Finally, these cuts have made the state’s budget shortfall even
worse. Eliminating GAMC in Minnesota costs the state $100 million in
federal matching funds. It also requires that inmates in county jails
and sex offenders who are constitutionally required access to medical
care must now be paid for in general fund dollars.
We are deeply disappointed in Governor Pawlenty’s decision to balance
the budget with jobs and deep cuts to hospitals. In the final days of
session, we’ll keep fighting to protect jobs and keep Minnesota’s
Officials whose names appeared at the top of the release are State Reps. Joe Atkins, John Lesch, Karla Bigham, Leon Lillie, Paul Gardner, Tim Mahoney, Mindy Greiling, Carlos Mariani, Rick Hansen, Erin Murphy, Alice Hausman, Michael Paymar, Sheldon Johnson, Bev Scalze, Kate Knuth and Cy Thao.
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