JUNE 30, 1959
NEW YORK—New York City is going through a hospital crisis which, I am sure, must be similar to problems experienced by hospitals in other cities and rural areas of the country.
One facet of the situation here was pointed up in a newspaper editorial which discussed the question of New York City paying the cost of indigent patients' care in the city's voluntary hospitals.
The editorial said that in the 1953 election campaign Mayor Robert F. Wagner promised to vote for an increase in the Board of Estimate's allotment to voluntary hospitals for such patients so as to meet the actual cost. And, the editorial pointed out, the city's Department of Hospitals admits "that its general patient care now costs the city $28 a day."
The amount paid by the city government has been $16 a day, and on July 1 the city will begin paying $20 a day, which is still $8 short of the actual cost of patient care in municipal hospitals.
It ought to be simple to work out the actual cost, and since the Mayor has agreed it should be paid by the city, it seems that it would be well for the Board of Estimate to try to find a way to meet this expense.
But there is a basic question that remains unanswered, and it is this:
In his 1959-60 budget message the Mayor said: "The city would be compelled to maintain an even larger city hospital system if it were not for the assistance and cooperation of those voluntary hospitals. Rising costs of patient care have made serious inroads into the financial stability of these institutions as they have absorbed the deficits incurred in the care of our city charge patients."
This certainly indicates the Mayor tried to redeem his campaign promise. But, I am told, there are city hospitals with many empty beds, even though some are filled to capacity.
So, as long as there are beds available to accommodate a major number of these patients, the Board of Estimate is justified in questioning the need for sending these patients to the voluntary hospitals.
I am told that the voluntary hospitals want these patients because, unless they did take them, they would lose their status as charitable institutions and be classed among those that are paid for the actual accommodations and care received.
This charge is too high for many people with moderate incomes, so it might well be that the hospitals should be more honest with the public and make their appeal on the basis of providing care for those who pay as much as they are able but still cannot cover the cost of present-day hospital care.
This, of course, draws us into the whole field of hospital medical insurance. But I think it is high time that we recognize the fact that wages of staff employees should not be kept low to meet hospital deficits. Good management requires a living wage for all employees and a thorough understanding of the situation, for both the city and voluntary hospitals serve the community as a whole.