It’s Time for the State to Fund All Hospitals Equitably

There has been a great deal of national debate about health care lately. Here in Massachusetts, many of our hospitals are facing a crisis that is every bit as critical.

Holyoke Medical Center is one of the hospitals that is most affected.

Though Holyoke Medical Center, formerly Holyoke Hospital, has been a vital component in taking care of the region’s most needy patients ever since it opened in 1893, we are witnessing an unparalleled crisis in state funding. For many years millions of dollars in state funding have flowed to facilities such as Boston Medical Center because, like us, they take care of the poor. There is no doubt that they do. And there is also no doubt that, thanks to state funding, Boston Medical Center, a fellow nonprofit facility, finished fiscal year 2008 with a profit of nearly $55 million. During the same period, Holyoke Medical Center, which also treats tens of thousands of poor people each year, lost $951,000. Something is not right with the system.

There are 14 community hospitals in Massachusetts designated as ‘disproportionate-share hospitals,’ each of which serves a large population of the poor and medically needy. A hospital is designated as a disproportionate-share hospital if more than 63% of the care it provides is reimbursable by public payers — Medicaid, Medicare, and Commonwealth Care. It is not just the poor who are served by such hospitals, but also people at risk of being underserved due to age, culture, or disability, or who lack the resources, insurance, education, or ability to travel for care. These hospitals — including Holyoke Medical Center — serve the most needy and vulnerable populations in cities that are struggling to provide services. Others are located in rural areas with challenged economies like the Berkshires and Cape Cod.

Each year, Holyoke Medical Center treats more than 40,000 patients in its Emergency Department alone. Additional services extend its reach to hundreds of thousands of patients. But many of the patients who come to the ER seeking care cannot afford to pay. We’ve never turned anyone away based on their income level, nor would we. The fact that we take care of this population is just one reason we are essential to this community and to this state.

And all we ask is that we are compensated fairly for this invaluable service, on par with hospitals in the Boston area.

It’s quite likely you know someone, a friend or a family member, who works at Holyoke Medical Center. HMC and its affiliates employ more than 1,800 people, and as the largest non-public employer in Holyoke,we pump more than $300 million in direct and indirect spending back into the local economy each year.

Our nurses and other professionals deserve to be compensated on par with those in Boston. Our patients deserve access to the same state-of-the-art medical equipment that Boston patients can access because their hospitals are adequately reimbursed for caring for the poor. The issues facing our hospital are no less pressing than the issues facing Boston Medical Center or Cambridge.

Western Mass. patients deserve better. You deserve better.

There is a growing gap between critical health care dollars being spent in Boston and elsewhere in Massachusetts. Hospitals such as Holyoke Medical Center are severely underfunded, and if the budget shortfalls continue, then the caring that has gone on at this facility and others for generations will be in severe jeopardy.

Supporting our community safety-net hospitals is critical to the health and strength of the towns and cities that depend on them for jobs, to stimulate the economy, and to care for the residents of our communities, including those most in need. In the end, what we ask for is fair and equitable support to fulfill this mission.

Please express your concerns on this issue to the Commonwealth’s administration and legislators.

Hank Porten is president of Holyoke Medical Center.

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