State To Determine How Many ER Beds It Needs

Some members of the state Assembly were uneasy with a proposal to study the number of emergency room beds in the state.

The legislation, A.6832/S.4699, was eventually passed 144-5 in the state Assembly and 51-11 in the state Senate.

It has been sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his signature.

In addition to the study of the minimum number of emergency room beds the state needs, the study will also make recommendations on the minimum number of emergency rooms required per capita and the maximum distance patients shall be expected to travel to access emergency room services.

State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, voted in favor of the legislation in the state Assembly, though not before making clear that further legislative action would be necessary before any substantive changes could be made.

“I note that the introductory sentence references that they are authorized to establish a minimum number of beds required,” Goodell said before questioning Assemblyman Michael DenDekker, D-Forest Heights and the legislation’s sponsor.

“Am I correct that is only a recommendation and they would not be authorized to actually establish a minimum? That would require further legislative action?”

DenDekker responded to Goodell’s question by saying the study will only make recommendations, not take concrete action.

Goodell’s concerns likely had their genesis in the 2006 Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century report, better known as the Berger Commission after its chairperson, Stephen Berger. That report was undertaken as part of the state’s 2006 budget process with the purpose of restructuring the state’s health care delivery system and resulted in orders to close, consolidate or downsize hospitals throughout the state.

Locally, the Lake Shore Health Care Center in Irving and Westfield Memorial Hospital were ordered to close all inpatient services. The hospitals mounted an aggressive campaign that eventually resulted in the orders to close being reversed in part because closing the small, rural hospitals would have left thousands of county residents with a 30- or 40-minute trip to the nearest remaining emergency room facility.

“I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this in some detail with Mr. DenDekker,” Goodell said. “I thought it was important that we make it absolutely clear as part of our legislative history that this study and this legislation would only relate to studying the number of emergency room beds and making recommendations back to us on what to do further and that this legislation would not and should not be interpreted to authorize the commissioner of health to actually establish a minimum number of beds, that that would require further action by the legislature. With that clear understanding, I appreciate my colleague’s comments on clarifying that. I don’t have an issue with this bill and will recommend my colleagues support it as well.”

DenDekker wrote in his justification for the legislation that many New Yorkers faced with a medical emergency may find it difficult to receive adequate care. Overcrowded emergency departments resulting from too few beds may cause patients to wait far longer than what is appropriate. A hospital’s proximity can be an issue for patients who must travel great lengths to access those services as well. DenDekker wrote that it is likely the availability of emergency room beds will decrease as New York’s population ages and if hospitals continue to close.

“The intention of the bill is to look at an area, we’ll use an area near where my district is that has a stadium and a tennis stadium, a baseball stadium, airport, multiple highways and public transportation systems and to decide should there be a higher number of beds available in that area in case some incident were to occur in that area,” DenDekker said.

The study is to be finished by Dec. 31. Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, also voted in favor of the legislation.

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