Officials: Health care cuts would hit hard locally

Lincoln Hospital.

Lincoln Hospital’s asthma program would be among the casualties of federal cuts

Public health officials are concerned that programs designed to treat asthma and other illnesses in low-income neighborhoods like the South Bronx could be doomed if the federal government moves ahead with plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

At Lincoln Medical Center’s annual legislative forum in March, the hospital’s executive director, Milton Nuñez, urged elected officials to stand up to Republican leadership in Washington and ensure funding is not eliminated for programs like RESPIRAR, Lincoln’s asthma-fighting initiative for the uninsured. He also urged community activists to mobilize Bronxites to write to their representatives demanding that they not back down. 

“If you don’t speak up the cuts will happen,” was the message Nuñez said must be conveyed across the borough. He added that many patients are so worried by President Trump’s vow to increase raids and deportations that they aren’t coming in for needed treatment. “It is delaying their access to care,” said Nuñez .

New York City Health & Hospitals Corporation’s assistant vice president of corporate relations, Bridgette Ingraham-Roberts, said that Republicans’ recent flip flopping about whether to reinstate some version of Obamacare after gutting it proves that “they don’t know what to do.”

“These are fearful times for many of the patients in the downtown Bronx and other indigent communities,” said Ingraham-Roberts, adding that public hospitals care for 70 percent of the city’s uninsured. “Now the rubber hits the road and they need to tell 20 million people in the US that they won’t have coverage,” she said.

The Congressional Budget Office released a finding recently that as many as 24 million Americans could lose their health care insurance within a decade if proposed cuts are implemented, causing House Republicans to scramble for alternative solutions to insure the nation’s poorest. Hospitals in the city’s Health and Hospitals Corp. network see 425,000 uninsured patients per year.

An activist from Highbridge, Thomasina Bushby, said she was appalled that patients with serious medical conditions would be expected to barter over their coverage. “The insurance companies could benefit but the patient could die in the process of negotiating from being stressed out,” she said.

Riyad Basir, director of RESPIRAR, said the program “provides care for everybody, regardless of pay.” Program officials say their staff made 450 home visits last year and monitor about 8,000 patients annually. Hospitalizations for patients enrolled in the program, they say, decreased by 89 percent. The South Bronx, Basir pointed out, has long been known as “Asthma Alley,” in part because of high levels of air pollution and mold-infested, poorly maintained homes.

Lifelong Longwood resident Joyce Campbell-Culler who was born in what she calls the “Old Lincoln” 71 years ago, says the hospital’s evolving asthma treatment programs over the years have saved her life. Before the 1990s when asthma medications improved significantly, the self-proclaimed “40-year sufferer” would have to be rushed to Lincoln’s emergency room up to three times a week.

“I’ve lived my whole life in Asthma Alley,” said Campbell-Culler. “There were times they would take me in an ambulance, I’d leave and they’d have to take me right back,” she says. But the advances in treatment were so vast that she is down to just a handful of emergency room visits per year. A big part of that improvement, she says, is due to the preparation of local doctors and nurses, medical breakthroughs and Medicaid funding to pay for expensive medication.

If training for health care professionals and crucial medication and equipment for asthma patients, such as nebulizers, is hit by funding cuts, she predicts, the consequences for her neighbors with longstanding conditions will be dire.

The Bronx Borough President’s director of Health and Human Services, Paula Richter, said slashing health care would decimate the Bronx in more ways than one.

“We’re not just going to have a health crisis. We’re going to have an employment crisis,” said Richter about the concern health care jobs will be lost as a result of the cuts.

The state, too, should act to help fill in funding gaps, Nuñez told the large gathering inside the hospital’s main auditorium. In February Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the state would invest $50 million in Montefiore Hospital, a nonprofit, through a capital investment program for infrastructure.

“Nonprofit organizations play an invaluable role in providing critical services for countless New Yorkers and we must do all we can to make sure that aging infrastructure does not stand in the way of their admirable work,” Cuomo said when announcing the grant.

However, Nunez told the activists and elected officials, “The Health and Hospitals Corp. “deserves that money as well.”

Lincoln Hospital’s Community Advisory Board and Patient Advisory Council urge the public to pick up postcards
in Room 2-427 at the hospital. They can also call 718-579-5471 Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.