2006-12-01 / Front Page

Local Hospitals Dodge Commission Bullet

By Howard Schwach

Despite persistent reports that closing either Peninsula Hospital Center or St. John's Episcopal Hospital would be recommended by the state's Commission On Health Care Facilities in the 21 st Century, both survived the cuts that call for closing five hospitals in New York City and nine statewide.

Instead, the Berger Commission Report recommended on Tuesday that Peninsula Hospital Center in Arverne downsize by approximately 99 beds to 173 beds and that St. John's Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway downsize by approximately 81 beds to 251 beds.

While experts in local health care say that the cuts were not only expected, but that both hospitals have already downsized to the recommended numbers, they add that another recommendation caught most of them by surprise.

"Contingent upon financing," the report continued, "it is recommended that Peninsula Hospital Center and St. John's Episcopal Hospital merge and rebuild a single facility with 400 beds."

"The optimal solution to meet the health care needs of the Rockaways is the establishment of one new hospital with an appropriate configuration of needed services and the number of beds in a convenient location for the bulk of the population," the report said. "Neither of its two hospitals runs at full capacity, yet neither can absorb the other's patient load. The mix of the services between the two hospitals is relatively complementary, but they have unnecessary overlaps in medical/surgical capacity. Their medical staffs overlap. Both facilities are old and in need of extensive capital renovation. Neither has an adequate physical plant in the optimal location to serve the needs of a growing community. In an effort to avoid assuming more debt that it can comfortably carry, Peninsula Hospital has made steady but relatively small investments in its physical plant. St. John's has renovated part of its outmoded facility but needs to do more."

A spokesperson for St. John's said that the hospital agrees with the commission's recommendations.

"{We] welcome the recommendations from the Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21 st Century as it concerns our facility, said spokesperson Penny Chin in a prepared statement. "Since 1999, the hospital has been responsibly operating 251 beds although we are certified to operate 332 beds. We also support the commission's recommendation to merge the two hospitals on the Rockaways and to build one new hospital."

"Over the past year," Chin added, "St. John's has been a promoter of the idea that our communities may be best served by discontinuing the use of two aging hospital facilities and building a new hospital with lower bed capacity and a higher emphasis on ambulatory services."

Liz Sulik, the Director of External Services for Peninsula Hospital Center, issued the following statement to The Wave.

"Peninsula Hospital Center, affiliate of the North Shore/Long Island Jewish Health System and hospital affiliate of the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center, recognizes the challenges in health care and the critical significance of the Berger Commission report. It is very notable that the recommendations contained in the report take into account the public health needs of the Rockaways. Peninsula Hospital Center is committed to meeting the future needs of the communities we serve and continuing its long history of providing high-quality, accessible services. We will continue to work collaboratively to improve and expand health care services for residents of this rapidly growing community."

The commission's proposals can be rejected only by a vote of both the State Senate and the Assembly or by a veto of Governor George Pataki, who set up the commission in the first place. Those actions have to take place by the end of December or else they will be automatically implemented.

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