If you or someone you love has recently sought health care, whether the need is routine or urgent, you have learned that our community’s health system itself is in a state of emergency.
Overcrowding and delays are at an all-time high in hospital EDs, specialty clinics, and even primary care offices. Doctors, nurses and other staff struggle to provide great care under challenging conditions. Reporting by this newspaper has confirmed the frustrations being felt by patients, their caregivers, and our health care providers.
The New York state budget being debated in Albany can either provide a lifeline or intensify conditions that threaten one of Rochester’s traditionally strongest selling points: readily available access to high-quality health care.
What’s gone wrong? Decades of underpayment to Rochester’s hospitals, home care providers and long-term care facilities made our community particularly vulnerable to the aftereffects of COVID. We have fewer inpatient hospital beds and staffed nursing home beds per capita than other regions of New York, and receive lower reimbursement rates for health services than many other communities across the state.
Since the start of the pandemic, one in five health care workers has left the field, forcing health systems to hire costly temporary or “traveling” professionals to keep beds open. We also must invest more to recruit and retain full-time staff. Today, Rochester’s hospitals combined are paying $87 million more each month in labor costs than they did three years ago, an increase of more than 35 percent from pre-pandemic levels. These fast-rising costs already far outpace Medicaid reimbursement rates that have historically failed to cover the cost of care.
Health care providers are part of an interdependent system, where pressure on one component impacts all others. As nursing homes have been forced to close beds due to lack of staffing, our hospitals are unable to discharge patients for long-term care. These patients back up in hospitals, causing ED overcrowding as newly admitted patients await an inpatient bed. As public, nonprofit health providers, we cannot and will not turn patients away.
Ironically, despite excess demand, health care providers at every level are barely breaking even financially — or worse, recording unsustainable losses.
This is a public health emergency that demands a comprehensive fix. We take seriously the obligation to be creative in recruiting and retaining staff, to use technology in ways that expand access and improve efficiency, and to squeeze every health care dollar to its fullest. But government and private payers must be part of the solution. That is why we are asking state leaders to approve a one-time reset increase of 20 percent to Medicaid’s base payment rates for hospitals and nursing homes.
Please let our elected officials know that you and your family deserve better.
Richard “Chip” Davis, Ph. D., is CEO of Rochester Regional Health. Mark B. Taubman, M.D., is CEO of University of Rochester Medical Center.l