CEO: Budget cuts could close UF Health

Leaders call on Florida Legislature to not cut $95 million in Medicaid for hospital

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Leaders at UF Health warned Friday that if the hospital doesn't get millions of dollars from the state Legislature, it might have to shut down.

Jacksonville business leaders called on Duval County legislators to make sure the looming $95 million in cuts to the current Medicaid funding for the hospital don't happen.

If the hospital loses out on that money, officials said consequences for UF Health would be severe.

Hospital and business leaders said that money is about 20 percent of the funding that UF Health receives. They said if the hospital doesn't get the money, it will have a huge impact on not only the hospital, but all of Northeast Florida.

"If we lose it, we would just close," said Russ Armistead, CEO of UF Health Jacksonville.

Armistead said that if the Legislature does not act to make sure that the hospital's funding sources stay in tact, the area's only Trauma One critical care facility could be gone.

"We have roughly 50 days of cash. No reserves, the lowest Moody's credit rating, we don't have anywhere to go to get any extra money," Armistead said.

Business leaders from the Jacksonville Civic Council were on hand at a news conference Friday to make a plea to the Legislature to put this at the top of the priority list. Leaders said that they deal with a high number of uninsured or underinsured patients. A large portion of that $95 million is used to provide necessary care to those people.

"They are already running on a razor's edge," said Ed Burr of the Jacksonville Civic Council. "This is one of the most efficiently run hospitals in their peer institutions of all safety net hospitals. There's no room to cut further expenses, and they need every dollar of revenue."

"If that disappears, you really can't function," said John Delaney, chair of Jax Chamber. "That would mean that the patients that come here have to go someplace else."

That someplace else, leaders said, is other area hospitals, but they said those hospitals are already crowded and might not have the ability to handle all of the extra patients.

"Just imagine if you needed, your family, your son, daughter, wife, husband, neighbor needed level one trauma care and couldn't get it in Northeast Florida," Burr said. "(Imagine) how important that would be to you."

And if the hospital is forced to close, along with it would go the doctors, employees and medical residency training programs.

"A lot of people work at this institution," Delaney said. "It's the largest minority employer in the region (with) thousands and thousands of jobs. There's secondary jobs that turn into that. Just the impact there is just unbelievable."

On Thursday, the Senate released a budget proposal that included $2.2 billion for the continuation of the Low Income Pool program, which in recent years has funneled additional money to hospitals and other health providers that serve large numbers of poor and uninsured patients. The program, known as LIP, is scheduled to expire June 30 unless the state can reach an agreement with the federal government on an extension. Amid such uncertainty, a House budget proposal released this week did not include the money.

The state's legislative session wraps up at the end of next month, so hospital leaders are hopeful they'll have a resolution by then.

News Service of Florida reporter Jim Saunders contributed to this report.