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PEF urges legislators to reject budget proposals cutting services and reducing staff at DOH

PEF submitted testimony on Feb. 25 urging the Legislature to reject budget proposals that would discontinue the indigent care pool to public hospitals and implement interstate licensure, which would allow out-of-state nurses to treat and render services in New York.

The union advocated, instead, that New York invest in its state workforce and improve health care recruitment and retention.

“New York State maintains the most qualified, highest caliber health care workforce in the nation,” PEF President Wayne Spence stated. “Now, we need to implement the strategies needed to attract and retain more people in the health care profession. Unfortunately, this budget proposal does nothing to address these issues.”

Indigent Care Pool

SUNY hospitals – Downstate, Upstate and Stony Brook – provide vital medical education, research and essential health care services to their communities. They serve as specialty care centers, offering top-notch care for burns, trauma and stroke. They are vital to the underserved and less affluent.

Yet, this proposed budget would remove a source of funding from hospitals inundated with patients during a worldwide pandemic.

“The Executive Budget would harm New York’s public hospitals, which were at the forefront of the COVID-19 response,” Spence wrote. “At a time when hospitals, especially those that assist underserved communities, are facing high levels of use and are desperate for additional funding, eliminating this funding source is ill-advised.”

Interstate Licensure Program

The Executive Budget also proposes allowing commissioners of the Office of Mental Health, the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, the Department of Health and the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services to issue regulations to create an interstate licensure program that would allow health care professionals from other states to treat patients in New York.

For years, PEF has urged New York to create a pipeline facilitating the entry of new students into nursing and other programs. PEF strongly opposes outsourcing these health care jobs to workers from other states and instead urges the state to invest in recruitment and retention efforts and bolster state worker ranks.

Recruitment and retention

The need for health care has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic,  but state facilities and hospitals struggle to recruit and retain staff.

PEF has long argued for base salary increases and benefit incentives to attract skilled professionals to state service.

“Every state agency suffers from recruitment and retention problems for licensed professionals such as nurses, doctors, dentists, pharmacists and nurse practitioners,” Spence stated. “These professionals are always in high demand, but this situation has been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic. In lieu of increasing compensation, benefits or improving working conditions, the state has imposed the use of mandatory overtime, the hiring of ‘contract’ nurses and redeployment of staff to meet critical staffing needs in other agencies or facilities.”

Staffing needs are critical in many state facilities. In the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, some facilities are operating at vacancy rates exceeding 60 percent. Base salary increases and incentives, such as an income tax credit, an annual loan forgiveness program and hazard pay, could go a long way toward recruitment and retention efforts.

“Budgets are about making hard choices,” Spence stated. “We ask that you secure the resources necessary to invest in providing the critical health care and other services all New Yorkers need.”

Click here for the full testimony.

To send letters to your lawmakers about this bad budget proposal or any of the others PEF has identified as priorities, please visit this page.

By KATE MOSTACCIO