April 12, 2006

Table Health Care Task Force

In the wake of rising complaints about the county health care system, and especially the status of its public health nursing program, local Legislators Ed Romaine and Jay Schneiderman proposed the creation of an East End Health Care Task Force. To their consternation, last week colleagues on the legislature tabled the measure.

When the bill convening a task force designed to analyze an alleged compromised delivery of services and make recommendations for improvements first debuted last month, lawmakers took exception to language that stated a crisis as fact. Romaine revised the verbiage and was clearly perturbed when members of the county's Health and Human Services committee tabled the bill anyway.

Following the committee's decision last month, Romaine told The Independent that he changed the language at the request of the County Executive Steve Levy's office. He seemed to believe the change would mean the bill would pass, and was obviously irked to see it stall in committee.

Ben Zwirn, Levy's liaison to the legislature, offered that the CE would rather take a more comprehensive look at the entire county system. During the legislature's regular session on April 4, lawmakers echoed the sentiment.

According to Zwirn, part of the review would include an effort to discern

the impact of undocumented immigrant patients on the system. In a one-year period, over 100,000 visits to the county's eight health centers were by persons

who don't have Medicaid or any type

of insurance, Levy's spokesman Ed Dumas reported. He said a conser-

vative estimate revealed 50% of those total visits were from undocumented immigrants, at a cost that could top $6.5 million.

Zwirn emphasized that the goal of compiling the figures would be to seek additional federal funds. "This is not to turn anybody away," he said. However, the feeling is that the federal government should help bear the burden that results from its failure to enforce immigration policies.

During the committee meeting, Zwirn disparaged Romaine's initiative as sparked by a request from the South Fork Community Health Initiative. Romaine's aide Bill Faulk declared that the measure was "absolutely" in response to the local group's letter. "It's our obligation to respond to requests from constituents and in this case we felt it was necessary," he said. Last week Schneiderman pointed out that the county's own health care advisory committee recommended an East End-specific task force. He suggested that, because the group would be comprised of volunteers and therefore cost nothing, he and his North Fork counterpart could simply convene a group on their own.

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