Norwalk Hospital pins hopes on special session [The Hour]

October 14, 2015

Norwalk Hour

NORWALK — Representatives of Norwalk Hospital are among the health care providers calling for a special legislative session to revisit Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s funding reductions for Connecticut hospitals.

On Tuesday, they got their wish as House Republican Leader Themis Klarides of Derby and Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano of North Haven delivered petition signatures to the Secretary of the State’s office in Hartford calling for such a special session.

“The cuts that the governor did — and even though he put some back — hurts cities, hurts the urban areas … because the Medicaid funding is significantly low,” Fasano said in a video posted by Senate Republicans. “He went out and threw some money around to the hospitals in the suburbs but that does not help the cities.”

On Tuesday, the legislative leaders delivered the signatures of 15 Senate Republicans and 64 House Republicans. Additional signatures must be delivered within 30 days for the special session to be called.
“They need 19 in the Senate and 76 in the House in order to trigger the special session,” said Av Harris, spokesman for the Secretary of the State’s Office.

Dr. John M. Murphy, president and CEO of the Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN), which operates Norwalk, Danbury and New Milford hospitals, welcomed the prospect of a special session to revisit the matter.

“We would love to have the democratic process, the legislative process be allowed to work,” Murphy told The Hour. “We would love for our legislators to convene in a special session, both sides of the aisle, and find a more responsible, even-handed and defensible serious of strategies to address the budget shortfalls.”

At issue are millions of dollars in state and federal funding for Connecticut hospitals.

“We’re working very hard on very thin margins and these cuts effectively mean that the patients who have limited income, who don’t have private doctors or insurance, the people that are poor in our communities, are going to have less access to care,” Murphy said. “We’re not going to deny care to people, but these programs that we have in place are going to require significant subsidies.”

Malloy’s office and hospital leaders, however, disagree on the actual amount of the cuts and, more generally, about the financial health of hospitals in Connecticut.

According to the state Office of Policy and Management (OPM), Connecticut hospitals had one of their best years on record last year, when hospital health systems saw revenues exceed expenses by $916.4 million — a $186.2 million, or 26 percent increase, from the previous fiscal year.

Murphy and WCHN Chief Financial Officer Steven H. Rosenberg, however, describe those numbers as a misrepresentation of fact.

Of the $916.4 million cited by Malloy, $465 million came from the state itself and $297 million represent net assets following the merger of Norwalk and Danbury hospitals and not new money, according to Rosenberg.

Murphy added that much of profit cited by OPM represents non-operating revenues such as investments for employee pensions.

“It’s locked up in investments vehicles. To say we made that money is less than accurate,” Murphy said.
Malloy stands by the numbers provided by OPM. Those numbers show revenues exceeding expenses by more than $916.4 million in fiscal year 2014. The office also provided data specific to Norwalk Hospital.

In that year, Norwalk Hospital had revenues over expenditures of $37.5 million. The WCHN network had revenue over expenditures of more than $349.2 million, according to Gian-Carl Casa Undersecretary for Legislative Affairs OPM.

On Friday, OPM announced that the state would distribute $14.1 million to six small hospitals through the Small Hospital Pool.

“The six small hospitals we are helping today lost millions in FY2014, and we’re proactively working to support them. The other 15 larger hospital systems made in excess of $900 million,” OPM Secretary Ben Barnes said in a statement. “With such discrepancies between large and small hospitals — between those who are making hundreds of millions of dollars per year and those that aren’t — we are trying to help those small hospitals serving our Medicaid population.”

The three hospitals belonging to the WCHN were not among the hospital identified for the $14.1 million in funding. That leaves the network looking to lawmakers and a special legislative for help.

Murphy indicated that the WCHN might take legal action if the matter isn’t resolved.

“I will explore every possible mechanism to reverse these cuts, because the care that Norwalk Hospital and each of the other two hospitals provide is invaluable and absolutely essential,” Murphy said. “I think I owe it to the communities to explore every possible tactic to get the money that I believe is due us back.”