2005-02-25 / Front Page

Experts: PHC Demise Greatly Exaggerated

Business Publication Says Hospital
By Howard Schwach

  • Crain’s New York Business newspaper created a shudder in the Rockaway Community on Monday by publishing a front page article that listed the Peninsula Hospital Center as one of “Eight city hospitals {that] are candidates for shutdown.”
  • “Area hospital executives and consultants agree that the facilities ripe for shuttering include Interfaith Medical Center, Peninsula Hospital Center and Victory Memorial Hospital in Brooklyn,” the article says, obviously not knowing that Peninsula is in Queens. It goes on to name other hospital facilities in the city.

    “The likelihood that some of those hospitals will close in the near future is growing, now that the Greater New York Hospital Association, the 1199 SEIU health care workers and the Hospital Association of New York State have all publicly agreed that closings are necessary,” the Crain’s story says, adding that some of the named hospitals were losing money, while others were duplicating services of nearby hospitals, thereby drawing patients away from the stronger hospitals.

    Hospital officials, however, disputed the fact that the hospital center was on the gurney, ready to be pronounced.

    “I was totally astonished,” said Robert Levine, the CEO of the hospital center. “We see the hospital’s business as strong and growing.”

    Levine told Kathleen Lucadamo of the Daily News that the hospital has been in the red for the past two years because of federal and state cutbacks in Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement, but that a population boom on the peninsula was creating more demand for health care.

    Liz Sulik, the hospital center’s Director of External Affairs, agrees with her boss.

    “This is very demoralizing for a hospital that has been working very hard to serve the community,” Sulik told The Wave. “I am appalled by the article because we [all of the hospitals] should be working together to get us through these cuts. This is divisive and the article only served to pit one hospital against another.”

    “When Bob Levine spoke to the Daily News, the reporter did not even know where the hospital is located,” Sulik added angrily. “They didn’t know that we are the largest employer on the peninsula.”

    “Because of the community we serve, we have to find a way to bridge the period that will last from the time the new cuts are made by the state and federal government and the time that the building boom in Rockaway brings increased hospital usage.

    “We have many patients on Medicaid because our area has a very large geriatric component,” she added. “The elderly stay longer in the hospital and use the pharmacy much more often. We joke that we have the 81-year-olds and their parents in the hospital. They require lots of care. They stay longer and we are reimbursed less.”

    “If they take away this hospital, there will be even fewer people getting adequate medical care,” she concluded.

    Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer told The Wave on Tuesday that she had called Governor George Pataki for an explanation of the Crain’s story.

    “My issue, my question to Crain’s is, who were the consultants the reporter spoke to, who were the hospital executives,” she says. “They didn’t even know what borough the hospital is,” Pheffer says. “The issue is, we’re growing, the issue is, how do I make my constituents comfortable with the fact that PHC is not closing down.”

    “I am going to fight like hell to make sure that never happens,” she added. “This is not a done deal.”

    Pheffer called The Wave later in the day to say that she had spoken with the Governor’s top aide, John Cahill. Cahill reportedly told Pheffer, “I can assure you that there is no plan to close any hospital.”

    Cahill added that there will be a state commission to study the problem of an overabundance of beds in city hospitals, but that it would be a long process before any decisions are made.

    Mary Johnson, a spokesperson for the Greater New York Hospital Association told reporters, “We think this [the Crain’s article] is very irresponsible. I don’t think that anybody at this point should be naming names.”

    Johnson called the Crain’s list “premature.” According to health care experts, more than half of the state’s hospitals lost money over the past year or two. There is consensus that some hospitals would have to eventually be shut down and most industry insiders are pushing for a statewide commission that would study the problem and make recommendations.

    Sulik is angry at Crain’s for publishing the story.

    “This is just backbiting, forcing dog against dog,” she says, adding that the publication should have named the executives and consultants that the reporter spoke to for the story.

    “What were their opinions based on,” she asked. “Nobody will say.”

    Calls to Crain’s to speak with the article’s writer, Gale Scott, went unreturned.

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