I read the daily news with dread. It’s full of hospital closings and layoffs—and in my state anyway, a new round of Medicaid cuts announced today is making things look pretty grim.
While we often think about how this affects patient care, there’s another tragedy caused by hospital closures: the loss of jobs to that sector of the population that has the hardest time finding them—the service workers. The people who fill the ranks of environmental services, nutrition, the clerks, secretaries, the people taking care of their families the best they can, the people for whom a hospital job means they can pay the rent and, and represents a step up from the welfare rolls. Our hospitals, especially in poor, inner-city or rural neighborhoods, are the biggest employers around—and are often the only game in town when it comes to work. For much of the staff in these hospitals, this is their best shot at a decent, living wage—and a source of dignity. “I work at the hospital,” I used to hear people in the South Bronx say, with pride.
What is going to happen to all those people when the hospital closes? And then, when they no longer come to work every day, what is going to happen to the guy who owns the deli across the street where everybody buys lunch? The florist down the block? And the little old lady selling two-dollar bracelets on the corner? I see communities slowly imploding.
Those of us in the business of running hospitals need to remember we have a responsibility not only to patient care, but to these people as well. We need to do whatever we can to keep our hospitals open. And to keep these people in their jobs.
Our president elect has repeatedly mentioned HIT as a solution for some of what ails healthcare in this country. I sure hope he means it, and he can't get started soon enough. I say that for me, and for my friends in the South Bronx.