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Hospital officials still silent on Cuomo after 1,199 calls for his ouster

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks as 1199SEIU President George Gresham attends a health union rally on February 21, 2018 in New York City. | Drew Angerer / Getty Images

NEW YORK – The state’s largest healthcare workers union has joined the ranks of virtually everyone in New York calling for the ouster of Governor Andrew Cuomo, emphasizing the powerful hospital industry in the State – among Cuomo’s most important and staunch allies.

1199SEIU Chairman George Gresham released a statement Thursday afternoon calling for Cuomo’s resignation over “substantiated allegations of sexual harassment.”

“Unions have a responsibility to fight for safer working conditions and rights for workers, and that includes the right not to be harassed,” Gresham said in a statement. “No one can be exempt, and no one is above the law.”

The 1199 statement, which followed appeals from health unions NYSNA, DC37 and 32BJ, now makes the silence of senior hospital officials, who have long benefited from an alliance with the governor, more visible.

The Greater New York Hospital Association and hospital leaders – including Northwell Health President and CEO Michael Dowling – are now part of an increasingly small group of power brokers from Albany to remain silent as calls for Cuomo’s resignation and prospects for impeachment are gathering momentum following credible allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo and the subsequent collapse of his political support.

New York’s private hospitals – which Cuomo favored over his three terms with state funding, comfortable advisory work, and outsized influence in state policy making – are at risk of facing a seismic blow to their results if a less friendly governor takes over, according to nearly two dozen interviews with health officials and advocates who spoke with POLITICO about what Cuomo’s potential impeachment might mean for them. industry.

Most requested anonymity to speak freely, saying they had bills on the governor’s desk and did not want to make it worse at the expense of their problems.

One person, who attended Cuomo’s last fundraiser filled with labor and health leaders, said the governor’s long-standing relationships with people like Gresham, GNYHA chairman Ken Raske and Dowling clearly have makes winners and losers among the healthcare industry if Cuomo steps down.

“For years, Cuomo has helped perpetuate a system and exacerbate a system that has an inequitable distribution of resources in New York City,” the person said. “[The private hospitals and 1199] must be very nervous because this alliance that they have made is based on the fact that the executive perpetuates the systems that they have. If he leaves, he’s their champion, and that paves the way for more transparency.

Health advocates and government watchdogs have long condemned state distribution of funds to wealthy hospitals at the expense of systems that primarily treat low-income and uninsured people – a funding model that is likely to be threatened by Cuomo’s exit.

The Greater New York Hospital Association spent $ 3 million lobbying state and local governments in New York City in 2020 – the biggest spender, according to figures released by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics last month. 1199SEIU, meanwhile, spent $ 2.54 million. This is in addition to the millions that hospitals have given Cuomo and the state’s Democratic Party over the years.

Raske has cultivated a decades-long relationship with Cuomo, which has resulted in reports of preferential treatment for his trade group, including claims that the administration’s approval in 2019 of an increase in Medicaid’s reimbursement rate. was linked to campaign donations from the Greater New York Hospital Association.

Dowling, once an adviser to Mario Cuomo, and Raske played a major role in the state’s response to the pandemic. Northwell Health was among the first hospitals to receive Covid-19 vaccines and other resources. Before the pandemic even reached New York City, Cuomo brought in Dowling to co-chair his Medicaid Redesign Team II effort.

Northwell was also appointed by Cuomo to a consultant role overseeing One Brooklyn Health, a consortium of GNYHA member safety net hospitals that consists of Brookdale, Interfaith and Kingsbrook.

Representatives for Raske and Dowling did not return requests for comment.

Dennis Whalen, vice president of government affairs for Northwell State who assisted in the Cuomo administration’s vaccine deployment efforts in late 2020, declined to comment directly on the allegations facing the governor.

“We continue to focus only on our work in healthcare,” he said, adding that Northwell’s focus “has been what it always has been: delivering healthcare and trying to attack the different aspects of the pandemic. “

Asked about a similar question, Michael Pauley – a spokesperson for the Healthcare Association of New York State, which represents hospitals and health systems – said “While there is uncertainty, we are still working in working closely with state agencies and the legislature on major health policy issues. , defending our member hospitals, healthcare systems and continuing care providers on a daily basis. “

HANYS also has long-standing ties with Cuomo. Jim Clancy, senior vice president of state policy, and Courtney Burke, the association’s director of operations and innovation, are both former state Department of Health officials. HANYS General Counsel Sandi Toll, previously Cuomo’s Senior Deputy Legal Counsel.

Northwell’s Whalen, meanwhile, served as executive vice president of HANYS and then president and chief executive officer from 2009 to 2016.

The impending change of power if Cuomo steps down could create a “major food battle in the legislature” for health care interest groups seeking to influence State Street, an Albany observer predicted.

“The budget process will be a mess,” they said.

Bill Hammond, senior health policy researcher at conservative think tank The Empire Center for Public Policy, said the hospitals’ alliance with the governor was largely based on their results.

“Their interests span decades, not just the current governor’s tenure, and they’re smart about it. Their interest is to ally with those in power, whatever the party, as long as those in power are willing to reciprocate, “he said.” I think the biggest exception was [former Gov. Eliot] Spitzer, who went to war with them. ”

But hospitals’ silence on Cuomo could soon present internal problems for the unspoken message he sends to their staff.

“Sexual harassment, a toxic workplace, a hostile work environment… that’s not just siled to that specific office we’re talking about right now,” said Erica Vladimer, co-founder of the Sexual Harassment Working Group. “Now is not just a time for public officials to step up and put the protection of their workers at the forefront. Now is the time for hospital CEOs to do the same. They are sending a very clear message. to their employees: that employee protections take a back seat to politics. ”

Organizations further from the governor’s inner circle take advantage of Cuomo’s weakened position.

Housing Works CEO Charles King, who has fought with the governor over various health care initiatives to help those struggling with homelessness and addiction, said he was “happy to take advantage of the situation to get other things done “.

King said he contacted the executive chamber to push Cuomo to fund supervised injection sites, a long-awaited health initiative that advocates say has grown in importance as drug-related overdoses increase during the pandemic.

“I expect we will see a wave of activity from the governor,” he said. “Frankly, if we could get the overdose prevention centers moving, I would be happy to stand with the governor.”

And even though Cuomo is running out of time, King has said he doubts the governor can get a fourth term – a fate that will hit some health officials hard.

“They literally ran away with a murder,” said the person who attended the fundraiser.

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