2006-02-24 / Front Page

Once Again, Talk Of PHC’s Demise

Hospital Says Reported Stats Way Off
By Howard Schwach

Published reports of the impending demise of the Peninsula Hospital Center (PHC) are a little like the annual reports of the groundhog that predicts more winter to come: The reports appear once a year with great regularity, they create a media spotlight and then the reports disappear for another year with the hospital operating as it always has.

In February of last year, Crain’s New York Business newspaper created a shudder in Rockaway when it published a front-page article that listed PHC as one of “eight city hospitals [that] are candidates for shutdown.”

Last week, almost a year later, the New York Post ran an “exclusive” story that headlined “Scalpel poised for state’s sick hosps,” listing PHC as a facility with a “49 percent occupancy rate.”

According to that article, which has also created a stir on the peninsula, the facility filled only 132 of its 272 beds on the average during the past year.

PHC officials say, however, that the Post’s report is wrong in both its statistics and its conclusions.

“Peninsula has been licensed for [a maximum of] 272 beds for the past 30 years,” says Liz Sulik, the hospital’s Director of External Affairs. “And, we haven’t had that number of beds since then. We have 160 beds, which means we are not 49 percent full, but approximately 80 percent full,”

Sulik says that the rest of the space that was once used for beds has been converted to other ancillary uses over the years.

“In direct response to changing needs and advances in the health care industry, the hospital center has reduced its inpatient beds, expanded its emergency department, upgraded and expanded its ambulatory surgery unit, family health center and substantially upgraded its outpatient radiology department.,” the hospital said in a prepared statement signed by Joel Miele, the chair of the hospital’s Board of Directors; Robert Levine, the President and CEO and Peter Galvin, the Chief Medical Officer. “The Hospital Center provides the only radiation oncology treatment center in the region and, responding to a growing community need, has developed an adult and juvenile diabetes treatment center.”

Sulik adds that PHC is one of the leading employers on the peninsula.

“The hospital employs more than 1,000 people, the majority from the local community, and serves as a major economic anchor in the community,” she says.

A state commission impanelled by Governor George Pataki is studying the question of hospital usage throughout the state. That commission’s report is not due out until the end of this year.

That panel will make recommendations to the state legislature, which will then have to act on those recommendations.

In an accompanying editorial, the Post talked about its view of the problem.

“Peninsula Hospital Center in Queens fills less than half of its beds on a daily basis,” it said. “That’s not because [these facilities] are providing substandard care. On the contrary, thanks to advances in care, many services can now be performed in outpatient clinics, while other procedures are no longer necessary. Rather, duplication of services is rampant.”

Sulik argues that Rockaway is in a unique position, where many residents have no access to facilities off the Rockaway peninsula.

“[Rockaway] is in the middle of an unprecedented population boom,” she said. “An additional 15,000 to 20,000 residents are expected to move into the immediate catchment area of the Hospital Center within the next three to five years.”

Jonathon Gaska, the District Manager for Community Board 14 says that he cannot believe that the hospital is underutilized to the extent reported in the Post.

“Try to get a bed from the emergency room,” he says. “There are usually not many beds available.”

Gaska adds that closing the hospital would put the community in dire straits.

“We cannot survive as a community with only one hospital on the peninsula,” he said. “The idea is frightening.”

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