Safety net hospitals can be an essential service for some of the most underserved communities across New York. Advocates say Medicaid is the largest source of funding for those hospitals. 

Now, a group of Rochester-area lawmakers, health officials and health care advocates are asking for more state funding for Medicaid as many of those safety net hospitals have been closing recently due to a lack of money. The group came together at Strong Memorial Hospital on Monday to call on Gov. Hochul to fully fund the Medicaid Health Insurance Program.

State funding currently covers 30% less than the actual cost of the care that hospitals provide. Because of that gap, advocates say hospitals in New York continue to struggle financially more than in the rest of the country. They say 63% had an operating deficit in 2021.

According to representatives, it's a symptom of a much larger problem involving health care in New York.

"How do we establish the continuum of care when every part of New York state's system is struggling?" asked Tracey Harrison, vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East for Rochester/Corning. "If we have overcrowding at our hospitals and our nursing homes closing, where will those patients go for continued care?" 

“It works when you reimburse for the cost of care. It does not work when you constantly undercut that cost and pay people less than the services they are delivering,” said New York Assemblymember Sarah Clark. “There is no other answer, other than closing the Medicaid gap. That is why it’s incumbent upon us and our governor to understand this and our health care system and what it means. It means that patients are sitting in this hospital for weeks and often months at a time with no place to go. It means there’s wings at our nursing homes and our long-term care facilities that are dark. We don’t have staff to hire to fill those beds."

According to URMC, the lack of funding means many hospitals, such as Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, cannot invest in programs or infrastructure that benefit the patients and communities they serve. URMC says Strong Memorial has faced overcrowding challenges due to a lack of beds because of underfunding and other factors.

According to state data, more than 7 million New Yorkers rely on Medicaid.