Editorials

Gov. Parson’s foolish, penny-pinching veto will put stroke, heart attack patients at risk

Hospitals fear Parson budget cut could endanger patients

After a year and a half of work, Northwest Medical Center in Albany was one step away from becoming a level III stroke center. For the small hospital in northwestern Missouri, this was a really big deal.
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After a year and a half of work, Northwest Medical Center in Albany was one step away from becoming a level III stroke center. For the small hospital in northwestern Missouri, this was a really big deal.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has created an unnecessary mess by vetoing money for an obscure but important health program in the state.

The state legislature must override the veto in September, or the health of hundreds of Missourians will be at risk.

In June, Parson cut roughly $154,000 for the Time Critical Diagnosis program, which reviews hospitals’ protocols for treating emergency cases involving strokes and other cardiovascular illnesses.

The program is especially critical in rural areas. It provides quick and relatively inexpensive trauma certification for smaller hospitals that want to accept emergency stroke and heart attack patients.

If local hospitals lack that certification, patients must be transported to bigger hospitals in bigger cities. A delay of even a few minutes is dangerous.

Hospitals in line for the trauma designation have howled about the veto, and rightly so. The blowback was so intense that Parson said this week he’ll try to find the $154,000 somewhere else in the budget to keep the program going.

Not so fast, lawmakers said. A veto is a veto. Finding the money in the cracks of the sofa violates the state constitution.

“It sounds like to me like you regret that decision and want to walk that back,” said state Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Shell Knob and chairman of the House Budget Committee. “But that’s not how this works.”

Fitzpatrick and his colleagues can fix this in September by overriding the line-item veto. They should do so.

In the meantime, Parson should figure out how he could have made such a boneheaded decision. Cutting $154,000 from a $28 billion budget — while putting stroke patients at risk — is the definition of penny wise and pound foolish.

In fact, the governor and his allies should use this foul-up as an opportunity to review the sad state of rural health care in Missouri.

This week, The New York Times reminded residents that hospitals are closing across Missouri, forcing patients to find inconvenient alternatives hundreds of miles away.

Expanding Medicaid would help ease that burden. But we get it — Missouri lawmakers don’t like that idea. Hating Washington is more important than caring for the sick.

That doesn’t relieve lawmakers of their responsibility to improve health care delivery outside of metropolitan areas.

Missouri must develop a plan to keep more small, rural hospitals open. If expanding Medicaid isn’t the answer, asking more from state taxpayers is.

Rural health care is in crisis. Parson’s unfortunate veto exacerbated that crisis, but it won’t end when the veto is overturned.

It will be resolved only when Missouri’s leaders realize everyone is entitled to convenient, community-based, quality health care.

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