Op-Ed: Who is Responsible for Nassau University Medical Center?
by Elaine Phillips
There has been, rightfully, much discussion about the future of the only public hospital in Nassau County, Nassau University Medical Center (NUMC). Many people assume that NUMC is a Nassau County facility. In fact, it is not.
More than 20 years ago, New York State created a public benefit corporation called Nassau Health Care Corp. (NHCC), which in 1999 acquired ownership of the hospital (NUMC), the nursing home (A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility) and clinics. NHCC has continually owned and operated them all ever since.
NHCC has reported operating losses totaling $694 million over the past 10 years, which, combined with prior losses, led the public benefit corporation to report a total net position of $1.15 Billion.
NHCC continues to lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year, while State and federal funding for the hospital continues to dwindle. Over the past six years, State and federal funding has declined from more than $189 million in 2017, to less than $92 million in 2022.
Clearly, the situation is unsustainable and I am concerned for the Nassau County residents who rely on NUMC for care. However, Nassau County is not responsible for the hospital’s management and has no authority whatsoever to make operational changes.
Responsibility for NUMC rests with the public benefit corporation and its board, along with New York State, which created NHCC and controls many billions of dollars in healthcare funding.
The County’s financial relationship with NUMC is limited to sharing the cost of health insurance benefits for NHCC retirees who used to work for the County, and guaranteeing $100 million in debt for the hospital, which will be paid off by 2029. These liabilities currently amount to less than one percent (0.8%) of the County’s annual operating budget and will eventually disappear altogether.
The County also pays NHCC for specific services including medical care for individuals incarcerated at the Nassau County Correctional Center and for youths in the custody of the Nassau County Juvenile Detention Center,and for select health, medical and screening programs for the County. In addition, the County rents space on the NUMC campus for the Medical Examiner’s Office and for the WIC Supplemental Nutrition Program. If the County ever needs to find new resources for these services and spaces, it will be disruptive but not difficult given the abundance of high-quality health care resources in the County.
The Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA), which was established by New York State in 2000 to oversee the County’s finances following the County’s financial distress in the late 1990s, placed NHCC under control period conditions in light of its “weakening financial outlook” in February 2020. Since then, NIFA has paid consultants roughly $1.8 million of Nassau County taxpayer dollars to evaluate the medical center, yet improvements to the hospital’s fiscal health have failed to materialize.
NIFA often cites the hospital’s financial troubles as a reason to keep the County in a control period, but their confusion about who is responsible for NUMC is just another baseless claim that NIFA uses to perpetuate control.
For years, NIFA has approved the County’s Proposed Budgets and Multi-Year Financial Plans but used wildly pessimistic projections to justify continuation of the control period. Analyses by my office have demonstrated that NIFA has been consistently wrong - demonstrating an enormous gap between NIFA negative projections and the County’s actual positive fiscal results dating back to 2019.
NIFA needs to turn its attention back to the hospital and the public benefit corporationthat owns and operates it. NHCC must be held accountable for the hospital’s condition, and New York State’s leadership needs to figure out how to resolve the multi-billion-dollar budget gaps without compromising the healthcare of Nassau’smost vulnerable residents.
NHCC and New York State have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure continuity of services to NUMC’s patients, 65% of whom are Medicaid and Medicare, and 9% of whom are uninsured.
It’s time for NHCC and the State to figure out how they are going to stop the financial hemorrhaging at the hospital, while continuing to provide essential safety net services to Nassau County residents.
Elaine Phillips is the Nassau County Comptroller. She previously served as Mayor of the Village of Flower Hill and as a New York State Senator.