Tobaco settlement allocation to benefit Pa. medical centers
Pennsylvania's recent allocation of $11 billion in tobacco settlement money will be a boon to Franklin and Fulton county medical centers and their patients, hospital officials said.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge last week signed into law legislation that allocates at least $320 million a year over the next 25 years, starting with the fiscal year that began Sunday. The money will be used to pay for everything from nurses' educations to an expansion of prescription drug benefits for low-income senior citizens to an increase in funds to help the uninsured.
In addition, hospitals and medical centers across the state will benefit directly from programs set up in the legislation.
"We're going after every piece of this we can go after," said Melissa Randler, director of marketing and business development for Fulton County Medical Center in McConnellsburg, Pa.
She said the medical center will go after $500,000 in matching grants that rural hospitals can apply for to buy big-ticket medical and surgical equipment; seek funds earmarked to compensate hospitals for "free care;" go after money to expand home-based care; and seek a grant of up to $100,000 that community health care providers are eligibile for, among other targets.
Randler also said $3 million set aside to pay for nurses' educations will help the medical center indirectly.
"That's really important ... because of the shortage of nurses. ... It's encouraging more people to go into the field," Randler said.
Patrick O'Donnell, chief financial officer of Summit Health, which runs Waynesboro Hospital and Chambersburg Hospital, said the hospitals will benefit directly to a certain extent, but added that the indirect benefits may be more important in the long run. For example, he cited money to assist uninsured adults, plus anti-smoking education programs.
"I think indirectly it will benefit all health care systems," O'Donnell said.
Summit Health will directly benefit from compensation for free care, given to patients who are uninsured and can't pay for their medical care. O'Donnell said both hospitals give a higher percentage of free care, in relation to the total care given, than the state average.
Chambersburg Hospital gave $11.5 million of uncompensated care in 1999-2000 fiscal year, which represented 8% of total care given. Waynesboro gave $2.5 million, or 5% of total care, O'Donnell said.
Approximately $32 million is available this year for uncompensated care for all Pennsylvania hospitals, so Summit Health will have plenty of competition for the money. Next year, $70 million will be available to repay hospitals for free care.