2006-11-24 / Editorial/Opinion


The Hospital Wars: Which Will Survive?

The reality Television show, "Survivor" is highly-successful as entertainment and many locals enjoy watching it each week. Another game of "survivor" is taking place, however, and it may well turn out not to be enjoyable for Rockaway residents who find that their health care options have been severely limited. Crains New York magazine is reporting that up to a dozen hospitals in New York City might be closed in the wake of a report that is due out Monday. Hospital executives and industry insiders are waiting for that report with crossed fingers and low expectations. The Berger Commission, set in motion in January of 2005 by Governor George Pataki to "right-size" the state's private hospitals, is expected to close a number of hospitals, to merge others and to downsize still others by cutting beds. The New School's Howard Berliner, a professor of health services and management told the magazine, "A dozen hospitals sounds like a reasonable list." The magazine goes on to say, "In the Rockaways, a fight is going on between Peninsula Hospital 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 those facilities is likely to survive." That is puzzling in light of the announcement last week by Borough President Helen Marshall that Rockaway dearly needs another hospital, one that would keep patients needing specialized care on the peninsula. As you might think, officials at Peninsula Hospital Center are not too happy with the news that SJEH has started a stealth takeover of its facility. We have called St. John's for corroboration on the Crains story, but have not yet received a callback to clarify the situation. If the story of their proposed takeover is not true, and Crains is in error, SJEH should let us (and you) know the truth. In this case, silence may mean a perceived guilt. It is hard to understand how the state could cut half of the hospital beds on the peninsula at a time when the population is growing at a couple of thousand people per year. The state does not seem to care. State Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden made a blunt assessment about the report. "We have too many hospitals in New York City," he said. "There is no question [about that]. The more surgeons you have, you'll have more people getting surgery. The more hospitals you have, the more people you have in the hospital." Like many state officials, Frieden thinks of Manhattan as New York City. There are too many hospitals in Manhattan in terms of its population. The same is not true of the outer boroughs and especially of an isolated peninsula such as Rockaway. Cutting either or the hospitals, or merging them would force even more local residents to go elsewhere for their health care needs.

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