Democratic Senator Charles Schumer was at Lewis County General Hospital on Friday, touting the return of funding for New York's rural hospitals. The funding had been suspended for three months by Congress, and Schumer worked with Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa to reinstate the funding as part of Congress's fiscal cliff deal.
A small crowd gathered in the hospital's lobby in Lowville on Friday, waiting for Schumer's arrival. Patients, including many Amish, ducked out of the way of the press's cameras.
This rural hospital is one of 18 in the state to lose funding in September that it had received through the Low-Volume Hospital Program. For Lewis County General, the funds amounted to nearly $800,000 annually. But the money stopped coming in September, until Schumer and Grassley worked to reinstate it as part of Congress's fiscal cliff deal.
Schumer said the move was only fair to provide decent health care to New York's rural residents.
"The people in rural communities like Lewis County, Jefferson County, are every bit as entitled to good health care as people in Onondaga County, Syracuse or New York City," he said. "But it's a little more expensive, because you have to spread the costs out over fewer people."
Schumer said that's why this funding was so important. Another program that helps struggling hospitals, the Medicare-Dependent Hospital Program, affects seven upstate facilities. That funding, too, was threatened, and reinstated through the senators' work.
"If you don't know you have a good revenue stream coming in from Medicare and Medicaid, but Medicare – this is a Medicare-intense hospital – you're not going to get doctors to come, you won't be able to buy the machinery or do the updating that you need to keep it modern. So it's vital, vital," the senator said.
The Low-Volume Hospital Program provides about half a million to $1 million in funding per year for seven north country hospitals, including those in Saranac Lake, Gouverneur, Ogdensburg, Potsdam, Massena, Carthage and Lowville.