According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. hospitals have added more than 84,000 private-sector jobs during the past year.

That adds to the more than 5 million people already working in hospitals caring for patients at the bedside, coordinating care in hospital pharmacies and labs, keeping the lights on and caring for those in need.

In Louisiana, 106,000 people worked in hospitals in 2010, up 2.7 percent over 2008. During that same period, overall Louisiana employment declined by 53,000 jobs.

Health care is responsible for one in five new jobs. Despite the economy, health care employs 36 percent more people than it did 10 years ago. And yet, a “Super Committee” in Washington, tasked with cutting America’s daunting $1.3 trillion deficit, is considering changes that may take jobs away.

Hospital leaders recognize the fiscal challenges our country faces and by no means believe we should shirk responsibility to rein in our nation’s spending. Personally, our hospital has tightened its belt repeatedly. Nationally, hospitals have done more than tighten belts; we have made significant commitments in reducing health-care costs during the next 10 years.

Medicare and Medicaid are under the Super Committee’s microscope. The notion that cuts to hospital care can be made without impact on beneficiaries or the communities in which they live is misguided.

Hospital care is a labor-intensive endeavor. Wages and benefits account for the majority of our hospital’s spending. Every hospital job supports two or more jobs as our hospitals and our employees purchase goods and services from other businesses — frequently local.

It’s estimated that a 2 percent cut to Medicare alone would eliminate about 200,000 direct and indirect hospital jobs by 2021. These are not just new, needed jobs, but existing jobs on which families rely.

For years, hospitals have been paid less than it costs to care for Medicare and Medicaid patients. Further underfunding of these programs could do real harm. Two million Louisiana residents rely on these programs. Their need for health care won’t go away simply because the program can’t afford them.

The health field is hiring based on every community’s growing demand for health services. Hospitals are caring for patients who are living longer with more chronic disease requiring greater levels of care. As we continue a shift to wellness and prevention, early health interventions will become more essential, requiring more regular access to care and more health-care workers. Cutting jobs handicaps our ability to plan for and provide this needed care.

As our country struggles between recession and recovery, we must do what we can to save the jobs we have. We need forward-looking solutions rather than hard-to-take, but easier-to-craft cuts.

Teri Fontenot

president/CEO, Woman’s Hospital chairwoman-elect, American Hospital Association

Baton Rouge