The Stony Brook University Medical Center.

The Stony Brook University Medical Center. Credit: John Dunn

Even in this tough fiscal time, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposal to zero out state funding for Stony Brook University Medical Center, along with the State University of New York's two other public hospitals, is hard to justify.

The governor's proposed hits include $55 million at Stony Brook, $35 million at Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn and $37.3 million at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. That money helps these public teaching hospitals provide the kind of services that other hospitals find too expensive to offer -- though it doesn't come close to covering all the costs of these services. Stony Brook calculates that they cost $90 million, compared with the state's funding of $55 million.

What are these costly services? At Stony Brook, there's the trauma unit, for example, and the burn unit, which serves volunteer firefighters and those whose lives they save. If that burn unit were to close, there's nothing operating in Suffolk that could replace it. The same is true of the child psychiatric unit, which offers a wider array of services to mentally ill children and their families than other programs in Suffolk. And the hospital, like any public hospital, also serves the poor. Stony Brook is the only public hospital in all of Suffolk County.

Similarly, Upstate is the public hospital for a vast swath of New York, from Canada to Pennsylvania, the trauma center for 17 counties, the burn center for 34 counties, the poison control center for 55 counties.

If these cuts make it into the final budget, the hospitals' executives would have to make tough choices to close entire units. Worse, in the case of Upstate, the hospital would run out of cash in early 2012. On top of the direct budget cuts, the three public hospitals, like others around the state, will have to deal with their share of cuts in Medicaid funding. Cuomo deserves credit for starting a healthy, long-overdue conversation about ways to rein in the state's Medicaid costs. But the short-term result of Medicaid reform will be pain across the board, including Stony Brook, Upstate and Downstate, and those they serve.

In that environment, it's not entirely clear why the governor would also propose a 100 percent cut in state funding to these institutions. Those who are affected by the proposal believe it has to do with sending a message to the hospital unions, or with a long-term dislike of this state support -- either by the Division of the Budget, or by private hospitals.

Whatever the cause, these proposed cuts are excessive. But there is some hope, now that both the Senate and the Assembly have approved restorations. The Senate's budget would restore about 90 percent of the funding, the Assembly about 50 percent.

In the final bargaining, the pressure is on Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), chairman of the Higher Education Committee and a key figure in establishing the burn unit, Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), chairman of the Health Committee, and Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), whose districts include Stony Brook. This is crunch time, and they must stand up for Stony Brook -- and the other hospitals. hN