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Saratoga Backstretch Clinic Will Reopen

Lucas Willard

WAMC News has confirmed that a backstretch health clinic at Saratoga Race Course will re-open later this month after receiving a boost in funding.

The Backstretch Employee Service Team, or BEST, which operates a primary care clinic at Saratoga Race Course, has announced that the clinic that had been closed since the beginning of the training season in April will reopen.

Due to a funding shortage, the clinic was to remain closed during the “shoulder seasons” — the months before and after the summer meet at Saratoga.

Paul Ruchames, Executive Director of BEST, wrote to WAMC Friday afternoon saying the clinic will reopen on May 22nd and will remain in operation until the backstretch closes in November after “significant donations” from the New York Racing Association and NYRA Board member Michael Dubb. 

BEST, which operates the clinic in partnership with Saratoga Community Health Center, is funded in part by NYRA and the New York Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association.

Ruchames writes:

“The funding we receive from NYRA, NYTHA and New York’s horsemen is core to the mission and goals of BEST. We thank them for their generosity at this critical moment, and for all our supporters who help us meet the needs of the backstretch workers at Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga.”

Among those concerned about the initial cutbacks at the clinic was Terry Diggory, a member of the Saratoga Immigration Coalition, one of several groups that advocates for backstretch workers.

Diggory is pleased the funding has been restored.

“We think this is a vital service for the backstretch workers and something that they not only need but also deserve. We will continue to be watching the budget process in future years because we do not want this to be considered just a one-time band-aid operation,” said Diggory.

Neither BEST nor NYRA would confirm the amount paid to reopen the clinic.

NYRA had previously paid out less to BEST than previous years. In 2017, NYRA supplied $800,000 to BEST; $600,000 was budgeted for 2018. Both payments for 2017 and 2018 were made to BEST last year.

NYRA spokesman Pat McKenna said NYRA is pleased to make the contribution “above and beyond” the budgeted amount for 2018 to keep the clinic open.

“NYRA has been a long and consistent supporter of BEST. Going back to 2009, NYRA has contributed more than $10 million to BEST. So we are fully supportive of their efforts to meet the healthcare needs of backstretch workers and the entire backstretch community,” said McKenna.

In a meeting with the New York State Franchise Oversight Board on April 30th, NYRA CEO and President Chris Kay said the organization has reduced funding to BEST because it has historically paid more into the program than NYTHA. He said NYRA was also working with BEST to help the organization find ways to raise money.

NYTHA President Joe Applebaum told WAMC last week the organization paid $670,000 to BEST in 2017. In 2018, NYTHA has budgeted $712,000 for the program.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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