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Schumer touts renewal of assistance program for rural hospitals

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LOWVILLE — U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer in a visit here Friday touted renewal of a federal program that provides $2.86 million annually to six north country hospitals.

“I am here to bring some very, very good news,” Mr. Schumer, D-N.Y., told employees and supporters of Lewis County General Hospital gathered in the lobby of the North State Street facility. “We’re going to ensure that the doctor is in for Lewis County residents for years to come.”

The low-volume hospital program, which provides roughly $753,000 per year to the county-owned hospital, expired on Sept. 30, which would have meant a significant loss in revenue in the coming year, he said. However, legislation passed to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” renewed the program for a year, retroactive to the expiration date, he said.

“We teamed up and said, ‘We need to extend this,’” Mr. Schumer said of the bipartisan effort involving Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

The program, implemented in 1988 to assist small facilities with relatively low patient volumes, provides funding to 18 hospitals in New York, including six in the north country, according to information provided by the senator’s staff.

Projected annual benefits to other area hospitals are:

■ $583,000 to Carthage Area Hospital.

■ $550,000 to E.J. Noble Hospital, Gouverneur.

■ $437,000 to Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, Ogdensburg.

■ $395,000 to Massena Memorial Hospital.

■ $138,000 to Canton-Potsdam Hospital in Potsdam.

A low-volume hospital is defined as one that is more than 15 road miles from another comparable hospital and has fewer than 1,600 Medicare discharges a year.

Invoking the premise that all people are created equal, Mr. Schumer said there is no more important way to show that than to assist rural health facilities, which cannnot achieve economies of scale like larger facilities.

“We want to thank you for what you have done for us,” Michael F. Young, vice president of the hospital’s board of managers, told Mr. Schumer following his presentation.

The Medicare-dependent hospital program, established in 1987, also was renewed for one year through New Year federal legislation, the senator said. That program provides $6.9 million in annual benefits to seven hospitals in the state, though none in the north country.

While the renewal of the programs runs only through 2013, Mr. Schumer said he believes that federal leaders now realize the programs’ importance and won’t try to take them away again.

“There are many economic benefits of rural hospitals, as they are often some of the largest employers in rural areas,” states a release from Mr. Schumer’s office. “According to the National Rural Health Association, a closed hospital can mean as much as a 20 percent loss of revenue for its local economy, a drop in the per capita income and an increase in local unemployment.”

Mr. Schumer, during his visit to the Lowville hospital, also mentioned that he was glad Congress agreed on a one-year extension of the federal farm bill to avoid the so-called “dairy cliff,” and touted the new five-year bill that recently passed in the Senate.

“We need to get the House to pass it,” he said.

During Mr. Schumer’s opening remarks, one man entering the hospital decided to crawl through the lobby, presumably to try to avoid distracting from the speech, leading the senator to compliment him for taking politeness to the extreme.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” he said.

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