2006-11-24 / Community

Coming State Hospital Report Stirs Speculation, Fear

Published Report Says SJEH In Hostile Takeover Of PHC, One To Close
By Howard Schwach


The long-awaited report of a commission set up to downsize the state's health care system will be issued on Monday, November 27, setting off speculation amid published reports that one of the two major hospitals in Rockaway will either be closed or taken over by the other.

Crain's New York, a business newspaper that has fueled speculation about our local hospitals in the past, published a story last week that posited a battle for survival between the two Rockaway hospitals

"In the Rockaways, a fight is going on between Peninsula Hospital Center and its neighbor, St. John's Episcopal Hospital. According to a hospital source, St, John's has unilaterally petitioned the state to give it money to take over Peninsula, without telling the other institution of its intentions. Only one of these institutions is likely to survive," the Crain's article says.

A spokesperson for St. John's Episcopal Hospital told The Wave on Tuesday, however, that Crain's got it all wrong.

"The Crain's story that we are in a hostile takeover of Peninsula Hospital is absolutely not true," Penny Chin, a long-time spokesperson for the hospital said. "It is a complete falsehood. What we need is greater cooperation between the two hospitals and we are both working hard in the best interest of the community."

Chin wondered aloud why Crain's continues to publish stories that say either Peninsula or St. John's will be closed.

"Their stories are damaging and painful," she said.

Chin added that St. John's was in the black and has been so for the past five years. She does not expect the state report to call for the closing of her institution.

The state commission, named the Berger Commission for its chairperson, was set in motion in January of 2005 by Governor George Pataki to "right-size" the state's private hospitals. It is widely expected to close a number of hospitals, to merge others and to downsize still others by cutting the number of beds allowed to those institutions.

A number of published reports speculating on what the Berger Commission will recommend when its report comes out on Monday say that either Peninsula or St. John's will likely go despite the fact that thousands of new residents are expected to fill the residential housing units being built on virtually every empty lot on the peninsula.

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall responded to the stories in the media and to her perception of what will be in the report by arguing that the Rockaway peninsula needs another hospital, one specializing in such highly-lucrative areas as heart and cancer surgery.

Liz Sulik, a spokesperson for Peninsula Hospital Center also riled against the Crain's report.

"Once again, speculation concerning the Berger Commission's recommendations has overtaken sensibility. Recent articles in several New York papers have reported that Queens hospitals are in jeopardy of closure - Crain's New York even cited a 'hospital source' saying that Rockaway's St. John's Episcopal Hospital went behind Peninsula Hospital Center's back to request New York State fund a hostile takeover," Sulik said in a prepared statement. " [We agree with the statement of} Greater New York Hospital Center and Local 1199 of the Health Care Workers, who have taken 'great exception to reckless and irresponsible speculation as to which hospitals and communities will be affected by the pending recommendations of the Commission on Healthcare Facilities in the 21st Century [the Berger Commission]."

Sulik added that several months ago the New York State Department of Health approved the hospital's construction of a multi-million dollar cardiac catheterization laboratory in collaboration with its affiliate, the Long Island Jewish Medical Center. In addition, the City Council has approved PHC's plan and approved funds for upgrading its inpatient dialysis unit.

"Speculation by Crain's New York Business in anticipation of the formal Berger Commission report may make a few headlines," said the hospital's Board Chairman, Joel Miele, "but it also needlessly instills fear, confusion and anxiety. "PHC has been serving the health care needs of this peninsula and surrounding communities for 100 years; it is growing and will continue to grow to meet the needs of a quickly-growing community."

Steven Berger, the chair for the state commission, told reporters last week, "Closing unneeded hospitals is just a start, not an end of the restructuring process."

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