Pennsylvania governor vetoes $36 million for critical access hospitals

A budget impasse in Pennsylvania is threatening a half dozen rural facilities in the northeastern and central part of the state.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, recently exercised his line-item veto regarding critical access hospital funding. The decision has led to millions of dollars being withheld from the hospitals. Indeed, the decision cost the critical access facilities $17.5 million in direct funding from the state, and another $18.5 million in federal matching funds, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Wolf's spokesperson told the Post-Gazette that the cuts were required to try and keep the budget balanced.

"Personally, I am having a hard time understanding why the governor has zeroed out funding for the most vulnerable, at-risk patient populations we serve," A.J. Harper, president of the Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania, told the Post-Gazette.

"It feels like you're being held hostage,"  Barnes-Kasson Hospital Director Sara Adornato told WNEP-TV. The hospital has had about $1 million withheld in critical access funds so far. That has led the facility to lay off five full-time workers and cut every else's pay between 6 percent and 10 percent. "We're talking six percent off of people who make about $18,000 to $20,000 a year," Adornato said. "It's devastating to them."

The nation's rural and critical access hospitals have had their share of issues regarding funding, in some cases pushing such facilities to take clinical risks in order to bring in more revenue. However, acute care facilities in Pennsylvania have had a particularly contentious history.

In 2013, Monongahela Valley Hospital in Carroll Township and St. Vincent Health Center in Erie sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regarding the distribution of disproportionate share hospital funding. In the past, the state's hospitals had also urged tobacco tax and other tax hikes to plug budget shortfalls.

To learn more:
- read the WNEP-TV article 
- check out the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article