Unnecessary cuts to pediatric beds threaten critical funding, financial viability of larger public health care system at time of growing need, charge frontline health care workers.
CHICAGO – Newborn Intensive Care staff and their allies will push back against administrators’ plans to cut neonatal patient beds at this Friday’s Cook County Health and Hospital System’s board meeting, scheduled for 8AM on April 26, at 1900 W. Polk Street, in the facility’s second floor conference room.
On April 9, Dr. Jay Shannon, the Chief of Clinical Integration for the Cook County Health and Hospital System, told senior Stroger Hospital pediatric staff that, because of a nursing shortage for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the administration plans to limit the newborn unit to a maximum of 17 patients. Stroger Hospital’s renowned NICU unit has 54 beds and had an average census of 29 babies each day last year, born overwhelmingly to poor, minority women.
The shortsighted and unnecessary move threatens the long-term fiscal viability of Cook County’s larger public healthcare system, say physicians and frontline staff, who have urged management for years to adequately resource the respected unit, which generates millions of dollars a year in net income for the County’s public health system. Frontline staff have also repeatedly refuted management claims that the NICU loses money, showing instead that the NICU provides between $10 and $14 million in yearly income from Medicaid, which pays for the care – a vital source of income for Cook County’s chronically cash-strapped public healthcare network.
NICU care providers reject Shannon’s claim that the move is related to “patient safety,” noting that under Shannon’s watch nurses on Stroger’s adult medicine and surgery wards routinely care for 6 to 8 patients at a time – a gross violation of staffing norms – while NICU nurses currently care for 1 to 3 patients, in line with other hospitals’ staffing levels.
The NICU’s tiny pediatric patients are coveted by other hospitals — and an increasingly enticing income source for healthcare facilities across the nation. In Texas, for example, NICU care is enriching hospitals and impoverishing Medicaid so egregiously that “State health officials, searching for solutions to Texas’ multibillion-dollar budget shortfall, have set their sights on these neonatal intensive care units, or NICUs, which they fear are being overbuilt and overused by hospitals eager to profit from the high-cost care,” according to the New York Times (http://nyti.ms/YKVSRK).
Shannon has told doctors to refuse to accept babies from other hospitals once the new bed limit is reached. About half of Stroger’s NICU patients are transported from other hospitals, and physicians argue that if they refuse transports, referring hospitals will stop calling, since other hospitals are eager to capture the revenues that these tiny patients provide.
“That would be a death sentence for our unit,” one NICU doctor said of management’s scheme.
Some NICU staff met briefly with Health System CEO Dr. Ram Raju after raising their concerns at the Finance Sub-Committee meeting on April 19. Despite assurances that staff would be hired to limit the effect or duration of an admission cap, many remain skeptical. Thus additional public testimony will be given to the complete Board this Friday.
NICU Advocates: Fighting to preserve Stroger Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
Press contact: Dr. Richard David, 773-793-8449, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cook County Health and Hospitals Board meeting
8AM, Friday, April 26, 1900 W. Polk St., 2nd Floor Conference Room, Chicago (press availability at end of presentations)
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