De Blasio names hospitals, small business chiefs

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, announces the appointments of Dr. Ramanathan Raju, left, as President of Health and Hospitals Corporation and Maria Torres-Springer to lead Small Business Services, during a press conference at City Hall in Manhattan. (Jan. 21, 2014) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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Mayor Bill de Blasio Tuesday chose new heads for the Health and Hospitals Corp. and the Department of Small Business Services to tackle the respective tasks of rescuing the financially ailing hospital system and ending a "punitive" government relationship with small-business owners.

Dr. Ramanathan Raju, chief executive of Chicago's Cook County Health and Hospitals System, and a former executive vice president of New York City's system, was nominated to return as president of the HHC, which has a $6 billion budget and serves 1.3 million patients annually. He requires HHC board approval.

Maria Torres-Springer, executive vice president of the city's Economic Development Corp., will be commissioner of small business services, the mayor said at a City Hall news conference.

Torres-Springer, 36, is tasked with encouraging the growth of women- and minority-owned and outer-borough businesses, de Blasio said. He criticized the city's policies toward small business under his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.

"For too long, the central relationship between small businesses and the city government has been when the inspector walks through the door of that small business ready to issue a fine, and that's not what we're here to do in government," de Blasio said.

Raju, 61, would take on a hospital system that is struggling in the wake of physical and fiscal damage caused by superstorm Sandy and may require millions in subsidies to stay afloat. HHC has a $668 million operating loss, an audit showed last September, and upcoming city labor negotiations could put a further strain on its finances.

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The mayor said the combined prospect of bailing out the "the largest, most complicated health care organization in the public sector in this country" and funding new labor contracts is "sobering." He said it would take all of Raju's "extraordinary experience" to find a fiscally responsible way forward.

The city's system, including its 11 acute-care hospitals, will continue to take on undocumented patients who aren't covered under the federal Affordable Care Act, Raju said.

De Blasio pointed to the looming closures of the Long Island College Hospital and Interfaith Medical Center, both in Brooklyn, and both of which he fought to save as public advocate, as evidence of a community health care crisis.

"Hospitals have been closing for very individual reasons without a public transparent process, without a larger strategy in place and that has to end," he said.

Neither hospital is part of the public system, but de Blasio said he would continue pursuing a proposed Brooklyn Health Authority that brings together city and state officials to salvage community health care.

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