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Fred Kowal: Funding SUNY Hospitals

The three teaching hospitals operated by the State University of New York provide vital health care to more than a million New Yorkers each year. Our medical schools graduate more doctors than over 40 states. Every year.

Our hospitals care for the state’s sickest and most vulnerable patients, and many with little or no insurance.  Whether you live close by or miles away from these facilities, they provide a common good, offering tremendous benefits for all state residents.

And they operate in very challenging circumstances.

Unlike other state agencies and institutions,  SUNY’s hospitals pay for operating costs and debt service for necessary hospital maintenance. Yet these facilities are state-owned, run by SUNY and staffed by state employees.

Furthermore, SUNY’s hospitals are an annual target for budget cuts to their already meager operating subsidy. The state Legislature, as in past years, restored a proposed $18 million subsidy reduction. We thank them for their action and ongoing support.

But SUNY’s hospitals still aren’t getting all the funding they need. Even with the Legislature’s budget restoration, the subsidy is still about $40 million short of where it was five years ago.

SUNY’s three teaching hospitals have medical schools that produce many of the state’s primary care physicians. Nearly 1 in 5 of New York physicians graduated from a SUNY medical school or received graduate medical training in a SUNY-sponsored program.  And 75 percent of doctors in New York City are graduates of the medical school at Brooklyn’s Downstate Medical Center.

SUNY medical schools admit twice as many students from New York than its private medical schools, and New York students make up more than 80 percent of SUNY’s first-year medical students.

SUNY hospitals are massive economic engines in their communities, with every dollar invested yielding $10 dollars in return. Downstate’s economic impact on the state is $1.3 billion yearly. 

The hospitals have a combined workforce of 20,000. With more than 9,000 employees, Upstate Medical University in Syracuse is the largest employer in Central New York. Downstate is Brooklyn’s 4th largest employer.

The question I have is: with all of the medical and economic benefits SUNY’s hospitals provide, why must they have to fight for fiscal survival year after year? 

New York must make our SUNY hospitals a priority and provide them with the direction and funding they require and deserve.

SUNY’s three teaching hospitals were established to provide quality health care to all New Yorkers is. It was a promise made to the people of New York.

I look forward to working with the governor, the Legislature, and SUNY to keep that promise, and ensure a better New York for all.

Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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