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Federal error costs Samaritan Medical Center $250,000 a year

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Federal error costs Samaritan Medical Center $250,000 a year
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A change in federal classification has cost Samaritan Medical Center a quarter of a million dollars a year in reimbursements to its residency program. Senator Charles Schumer says he was told the change was a mistake, but there's no way to correct it and the Watertown hospital is out of luck. Our Brian Dwyer has the story.

WATERTOWN, N.Y. -- Itauma Udosen is one of 12 medical residents at Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown. A program she knows will kick start her career.

"It gives me a chance to not only be a better doctor, but it gives me the autonomy to know exactly what I'm doing, how to treat a patient and how to relate to the people in the community," she said.

It's that reason residencies are a big part of a doctor's education. An important program for Samaritan as well. So important, it actually allows 12 students, even though only 10 are covered by reimbursements. At $100,000 a year per student, Samaritan covered $200,000.

It's a number that's now more than double that after a decision by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to reclassify Samaritan as a non-rural hospital. Instead of covering 10 students, CMS will now only reimburse for seven-and-a-half.

"We don't know why it was looked at that way," SMC Spokesperson Krista Kittle said. "Our bed numbers haven't changed. Nothing on our end has changed."

Samaritan's efforts to fight the $250,000 jump in costs have gone nowhere. So the hospital reached out to Senator Charles Schumer. He's joining the battle. In fact, Schumer said he was told by CMS that the reclassification was a mistake, an error that can't be fixed and it's too bad for Samaritan. It's something that doesn't sit well in Watertown.

"When you look at a $250,000 hit to the bottom line, that's a lot of people, a lot of programs that otherwise could be funded," Kittle said.

And during a time where getting doctors to stay in smaller areas like Watertown is so hard, Samaritan says residency programs are that much more important. Doctors like Udosen get a feel for an area, a chance to fall in love with it.

"Spending at least three years in a place for that long period of time, it definitely gives you the feel of like, 'Do I want to spend the rest of my life here? Can I practice here? Do I enjoy this type of population that I'm treating?’" Udosen said.

"They're here for an extended period of time learning about the community, being active in volunteer activities, learning about the hospital and the medical staff here," Kittle added.

Schumer looking for answers actually brought the issue up Tuesday during the confirmation hearing for the woman set to take over as CMS administrator. He's urging Marilyn Tavenner to right this wrong.

Samaritan's residency program, which started in 1998, is the only one of its kind within 70 miles.

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