Syracuse hospitals reeling from Covid asked to pay millions due to government mistake – syracuse.com

Syracuse, N.Y. – A government mistake may cost two Syracuse hospital nursing schools millions of dollars.

St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center’s nursing school has been asked to refund $10.5 million to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, CMS for short.

Crouse Hospital’s nursing school has to repay about $4 million.

They are two of about 120 hospital-based nursing schools nationwide being asked to refund overpayments to CMS that occurred between 2002 and 2018. A miscalculation by CMS caused the overpayments.

The hospitals say they shouldn’t have to pay for the government’s error, especially now during the Covid-19 pandemic when they are struggling financially and nursing staffs are stretched thin.

Some elected officials have asked CMS to give the hospitals a break. But the federal agency says it is required by law to collect the overpayments by June 22, 2022.

Meredith Price, St. Joe’s chief financial officer, said the hospital is talking to elected members of Congress and the Biden administration to “find a solution that does not force hospitals to pay such a harsh penalty for the government’s mistake.”

“Taking millions of dollars from nursing schools in the midst of a global health crisis that hit the nursing profession the hardest is a devastating blow to our community, our college and future nursing students,” Price said.

Robert Allen, a Crouse vice president, said his hospital was surprised when it was asked to pay back $4 million because of a CMS miscalculation.

“We had no indication or knowledge that the payments were not accurate,” Allen said.

Both hospitals say they have no plans to cut nursing school enrollment as a result of the unexpected payments. “Our focus is on maintaining and hopefully growing current enrollment volume,” Allen said.

Price said St. Joe’s will have to make up for the revenue shortfall “elsewhere in our system.”

Upstate Medical University, which also has a nursing school, has not been asked to refund payments, said Kathleen Froio, an Upstate spokeswoman.

CMS said in an August letter its failure to make annual adjustments to federal payments to physician training programs inadvertently caused the overpayments to nursing programs.

CMS said in a statement it’s still calculating the total amount of overpayments owed by the 120-hospital based nursing schools. STAT, a heath news website affiliated with the Boston Globe, reported the overpayments to affected hospitals could add up to $1 billion.

CMS said hospitals will be allowed to repay the debts over time.

The affected hospitals are members of the National League for Nursing, a trade association.

“This funding was accepted in good faith and used by these hospital-based nursing schools to support the education of nursing students who are badly needed to address the ongoing nursing shortage,” that group said in a statement. “We need to increase capacity at nursing schools overall–not reduce it.”

In a recent letter to Congressional leaders, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and several other senators said the effort by CMS to recoup the payments is poorly timed.

“Hospital based nursing schools serve as both employers and educators, and they provide highly trained nurses to many of the communities hit hardest by Covid-19,” the letter says. “Failure to act could put these schools at risk of closure or severe cutbacks at a time when we need them most.”

James T. Mulder covers health and higher education. Have a news tip? Contact him at (315) 470-2245 or jmulder@syracuse.com