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Health care vital to economic health, too

October 18, 2011
By Chandler Ralph , Adirondack Health

As of August of this year, there were 756,400 New Yorkers without jobs, and unemployment numbers are at levels not seen since 1982. But while other sectors struggle to retain workers, health care is the one sector of the U.S. economy actually creating jobs. Hospitals are adding jobs right here in the Empire State.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nationally, hospitals have added more than 84,000 private-sector jobs over the past year. That adds to the more than 5 million people already working in hospitals - over 370,000 in New York - caring for patients at the bedside, coordinating care in hospital pharmacies and labs and keeping the lights on, and caring for those in need.

Health care is responsible for one in five new jobs. Despite the economy, health care employs 36 percent more people than it did 10 years ago.

And yet a "Super Committee" in Washington, tasked with cutting America's daunting $1.3 trillion deficit, is considering changes that may take these new jobs away.

Hospital leaders recognize the fiscal challenges our country faces and by no means believe we should shirk responsibility to rein in our nation's spending. Personally, our hospital has tightened its belt repeatedly. Nationally, hospitals have done more than tighten belts - we have made significant commitments in reducing health care costs over the next 10 years.

But I want our community - and respectfully, the congressional Super Committee - to have a full understanding of the impact potential cuts to hospital care would have in the North Country.

Medicare and Medicaid are under the Super Committee's microscope. The notion that cuts to hospital care can be made without impact on beneficiaries or the communities in which they live is misguided.

Hospital care is a labor-intensive endeavor. Wages and benefits account for the majority of our hospital's spending. Every hospital job supports two or more jobs, as our hospitals and our employees purchase goods and services from other businesses - mostly local.

It's estimated that a 2 percent cut to Medicare alone would eliminate about 200,000 direct and indirect hospital jobs by 2021. These are not just new, needed jobs but existing jobs that families rely on.

For years, hospitals have been paid less than it costs to care for Medicare and Medicaid patients. Further underfunding these programs could do real harm. And 23 percent of New York residents rely on one or both of these programs. Their need for health care won't go away simply because the program can't afford them. You don't need superpowers to recognize that the Super Committee has a great opportunity to protect our local hospitals.

The health field is hiring based on every community's growing demand for health services. Hospitals are caring for patients who are living longer, with more chronic disease, requiring greater levels of health care. As we continue a shift to wellness and prevention, early health interventions will become more essential - requiring more regular access to care and more health care workers. Cutting jobs handicaps our ability to plan for and provide this needed care.

I'm certain that the Super Committee is taking its debt-fighting task seriously. But as our country struggles between recession and recovery, we must do what we can to save the jobs we have. We need forward-looking solutions rather than hard-to-take but easier-to-craft cuts.


Chandler Ralph is the president and CEO of Adirondack Health, based in Saranac Lake, which oversees hospitals, clinics and nursing homes in Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, Tupper Lake and Keene. She is also on the Board of Trustees for the American Hospital Association.



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