SPRINGFIELD -- Suburban nurses Wednesday worked to persuade state lawmakers not to cut funds the state sends local hospitals and nursing homes to cover health care for the poor, saying cuts to major specialty services could follow.
Nurses for the Advocate Health Care system of hospitals say their employer might have to cut major heart and stroke care programs, for example, meaning some suburban residents could have to go to Milwaukee or Chicago for treatment.
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"Programs will go before care will go," said Sandy Cebrij, a nurse at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville. "You're shipping them all around the state to other hospitals."
Dozens of Advocate nurses were at the Illinois Capitol Wednesday to take their concerns to lawmakers.
Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed cutting $1.4 billion from the state's Medicaid program, including cutting $675 million from what the state sends to reimburse hospitals and nursing homes for taking care of low-income patients.
"I urge you to advocate for solutions on pensions and Medicaid like never before and make sure your voice is heard these next few weeks by the members of the General Assembly," Quinn said in a statement Wednesday, speaking to state business groups.
Medicaid costs for the state have skyrocketed in recent years, particularly as more people in the suburbs have begun relying on government health care services. Lawmakers of both parties have called for big cuts to the program, but almost any reduction in services is likely to either harm some patients or the hospitals that care for them.
Doing nothing about Medicaid, though, could continue to sap the state's cash flow, taking money away from schools, services to help the disabled and poor and other programs.
"Listening to these senators, it really is scary," said Laura Enright, a nurse at Advocate Condell.
State Rep. Patti Bellock, a Hinsdale Republican and Medicaid negotiator for the GOP, said Quinn's proposal could be "evolving" as lawmakers continue to meet daily on the subject.
"We're working hand-in-hand with the governor's people, absolutely," she said.
Meanwhile, suburban medical providers continue to worry.
Workers from Alden Management Services' nursing homes in Long Grove, Barrington and Des Plaines were at the Capitol Wednesday to talk to lawmakers about possible cuts.
Drew Elixco, a spokesman for the group, said further cuts to state aid could prevent the company from updating its nursing homes and make it difficult to increase staffing as law requires in the coming years. As it is, he said, the state is behind in paying its bills to the company by seven months.
"Our back's against the wall," he said.
Lawmakers' could be, too, when it comes to this year's state budget, which is due May 31.
State Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat and budget committee chairman, said his committee's job to find cuts in state government bureaucracy is hard, but not as hard as the panels being asked to cut health care and other human services.
"You see fear," Crespo said. "You see people are desperate."