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BUILD calls for support of Md. hospital jobs plan

A Baltimore community organization urged state officials to implement a new hospital jobs program, saying there was an historic opportunity to help the city heal in the wake of the April riots.

“We believe that this is a generational moment in Baltimore,” the Rev. Andrew Foster Connors co-chair of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, or BUILD, told  members of the Health Services Cost Review Commission Wednesday. The commission sets the rates for the state’s hospitals.

The employment plan, proposed by Johns Hopkins and other hospitals in September, calls for raising $40 million by increasing hospital rates and using that money to hire 1,000 entry-level workers from low-income, high-unemployment ZIP codes in areas such as Baltimore.

A report from commission staff, prepared for Wednesday’s meeting, cautioned that since the state’s current, global budget system of hospital fund is designed to reduce hospital use, the jobs the program would create might soon be eliminated.

Donna Kinzer, the commission’s executive director, said that more than $200 million has already been earmarked for hospitals to make infrastructure improvements and other efforts to improve health outcomes; staff was concerned that the proposed new employment plan would overlap with those initiatives.

Foster Connors said the existing measures suggested by commission staff weren’t enough and would use money that was set aside for other needs. “This is a new strategy, and [a] new strategy requires new and permanent funding,” he said.

CareFirst, the state’s largest insurer, and the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene have criticized the plan in letters to the commission.

CareFirst CEO Chet Burrell argued that hospitals should be paying for the program themselves rather than passing the cost on to patients, and DHMH Secretary Van Mitchell wrote that there are existing mechanisms within the hospital rate system that could fund the new jobs.

Carefirst CEO Chet Burrell (File)

CareFirst CEO Chet Burrell (File)

Under the global budget system, hospitals’ annual revenue is capped, offering a financial incentive to reduce costs and focus on preventive care top keep patients healthy and out of the hospital.

Foster Connors criticized Burrell, saying that the CEO had been unwilling to meet with BUILD leaders to discuss the jobs plan, offering to send CareFirst staff instead.

Robert Murray, a consultant to CareFirst who represented the insurer at Wednesday’s meeting, told the HSCRC that Burrell was willing to meet with BUILD to discuss the plan but wanted commissioners to make a decision on the plan first.

The commission will take up the plan again at its Dec. 9 meeting, said Chairman John Colmers.

Commissioner Dr. Stephen F. Jencks observed that discussion of the employment plan seems to have sparked unusually strong responses from both supporters and opponents.

“I have personally found this the most difficult issue that the commission has faced,” he said.