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Rural Hospitals Join The List Of Budget Impasse Victims

It is no consolation to Steve Gildea that he is part of a growing club.

The CEO of Tyrone Hospital in Blair County is just one of many people forced to deal with funding losses due to the state budget mess in Harrisburg.

“We are going to probably have to curtail some of the programs that we provide and some of the hours that people are working,” said Gildea. “I think that’s a given.”

Governor Tom Wolf vetoed supplemental Medicaid payments for the state’s 14 rural hospitals, six burn units, and dozens of urban and rural childbirth centers in late December.

The partial budget veto was meant to force lawmakers back into budget negotiations. So far, it appears to have created another torturous war of attrition, following up a six-month freeze on money for schools and social services last year.

More than $17 million in state funding was zeroed-out, prompting a loss of matching federal funds and leaving Gildea unsure what to do for his own hospital.

“I put a call in to the governor’s office, and I’d like to speak with him about it,” said Gildea. “I think it’s going to impact people across the entire state.”

Larry Baronner, deputy director of the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health, said the funding that was vetoed is usually available to hospitals in February or March.

“So they’re looking a month or two out and thinking, ‘if this money isn’t available, we’re going to have to make a decision here in the next month or so as to potential cuts in both service-line and staff,’” said Baronner.

The governor defends his partial budget veto, saying it balanced an irresponsible GOP-crafted spending plan sent to him after a tentative bipartisan budget agreement collapsed. Republicans are denouncing the cuts.

Why veto specific healthcare supplemental payments? Baronner sees politics at play as the Democratic governor is mired in a battle with Republican lawmakers.

“Traditionally,” Baronner said, “this Medicaid supplemental has received a good deal of support from Republican legislators.”

While budget negotiations are on ice, Senate lawmakers are making moves to restore vetoed funding for state prisons and agriculture programs.

Nothing has been announced to replenish healthcare funds.