To save Interfaith, delegation tries to expedite a Medicaid waiver

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Rep. Jeffries at an Interfaith meeting. (Dan Goldberg)
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Dan Goldberg

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Rep. Hakeem Jeffries spoke to about three dozen supporters of Interfaith Medical Center inside the hospital's cafeteria on Monday evening, and provided an update on what Congress is doing to help keep the beleaguered medical center open. 

The entire New York City congressional delegation, Jeffries said, sent a letter to the Obama administration asking to expedite Gov. Andrew Cuomo's application for a Medicaid waiver, which could bring the state up to $10 billion. 

"A significant portion of those resources could be used for Interfaith," Jeffries said, though there is no guarantee from the governor that they would be. 

The waiver allows New York to keep a portion of savings it has achieved in Medicaid spending. 

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The Cuomo administration applied for the waiver last year, and sent another letter in May asking for an expedited decision, citing the plight of hospitals in Brooklyn and warning the consequences could be "disastrous."

That sentiment was echoed in the letter from the congressional delegation.

"We tried to make the point to the White House that in the absence of a waiver, you are going to see hospitals contract in areas that need expansion the most," Jeffries said on Monday evening.

He added that he has not spoken directly to President Obama on this issue. 

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid had complained the New York application was incomplete, and representatives from the governor's office sent in additional materials last week. The waiver is now pending. 

But, the congressman cautioned that political pressure can only go so far, in part because congressional Republicans have used the health care to law to attack the president.  

"Jim Crow may be dead but he has some nieces and nephews that are alive and well," Jeffries said. 

Jeffries' speech followed a brief rally outside the hospital.

This week could be crucial for supporters of the financially-strapped hospital. On Wednesday, Interfaith will be back in U.S. bankruptcy court to litigate a closure plan, which, if the court approves, could be implemented before the end of the year.

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio previously filed a motion, in his capacity as public advocate, to halt the closure of the hospital.

Defenders of the hospital believe they now have an ally in City Hall, but they want to ensure their concerns are heard in Albany. They have held several rallies in the last few months, with another scheduled outside the Brooklyn courthouse on Wednesday morning. 

Eliza Carboni, area director for the New York State Nurses Association said there was a productive meeting with the state Department of Health on Friday, but there is still disagreement and angst over a deal to have Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center take over certain services, including clinics. 

There are also concerns about the potential for a  six-month lag between the time Interfaith closes and when Kingsbrook is able to ramp up its operations, during which there would be no in-patient beds, Carboni said. 

Still, there was progress. 

"The talk was all about closure, closure, closure," she said. "Now, the state is talking about transition."