2007-12-21 / Front Page

$400 Million Hospital Merger Still In The Works

By Nicholas Briano

The idea of Rockaway's two major hospitals, St. John's Episcopal and Peninsula Hospital, merging into one state-of-the-art facility was first raised in November of 2006 by the New York State Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century, which released a statewide report of recommendations that included one centralized first-class hospital to serve the entire peninsula.

The question was raised by the report, discussed for a short time and then, like many other hot-button items, it was moved to the back burner.

Borough President Helen Marshall raised it from the dead a year ago in her State of The Borough report, calling for a hospital in Rockaway that would keep local patients on the peninsula for their health care, rather than traveling to Manhattan or Long Island.

This week the idea got another boost when it was revealed that Marshall, and several of Rockaway's other elected representatives met with high ranking officials from Peninsula and St. John's Episcopal Hospitals about the potential merger that would bring a new, single, unified hospital to Rockaway.

Dan Andrews, spokesperson for Marshall, confirmed that a meeting was held on Monday and that heads of the local hospitals were on hand to discuss the possible joint venture into a new building.

"The main question right now is about finding a centrally located site for the new facility," Andrews said. "The borough president has a comprehensive vision for sustainable and extensive medical care in Rockaway."

Marshall's vision derives from the Berger Commission report, as well as her own investigation made by Price Waterhouse Coopers. Those reports suggest that Rockaway's two hospitals merge into one 400-bed facility which can provide extensive surgical services, including a cardiac care center that would perform first-rate heart and artery-related surgeries. It would make it unnecessary for patients to leave Rockaway for New York City in order to receive the best possible care and surgery.

"It is unfortunate that many patients are forced into Manhattan because of the lack of care options in Rockaway," Andrews continued. "It is not only difficult on patients, but on loved ones also who must travel to Manhattan to visit family members after surgery."

Marshall also believes that there is a need for this type of facility in Rockaway because of the recent housing development boom occurring in Arverne, which is adding nearly 2,300 new homes in the area. The borough president thinks that development should not only occur within the housing market, but in the surrounding areas and the facilities that serve them. Andrews continued to say that the housing boom in the area calls for the immediate development of a stateof the-art hospital that can serve the needs of an expanded community.

Penny Chin, spokesperson for St. John's Episcopal Hospital, also agrees that Rockaway would benefit from a new facility and confirmed that a meeting took place but did not provide further details about a proposed location for the new hospital.

"The hospitals continue to work with all of the elected officials to provide the best and most comprehensive health care possible to the Rockaway Peninsula," Chin said.

The elected officials on hand included Congressmen Anthony Weiner and Gregory Meeks, State Senator Malcolm Smith, and Assemblywomen Michele Titus and Audrey Pheffer. According to Andrews, the talks were a little more than just preliminary. Chin refused to comment on particular sites but rather reiterated the Berger Commission suggestions.

"St. John's Episcopal and Peninsula Hospitals met with elected officials for the purpose of providing an update on the Berger Commission's recommendations," Chin said.

Assemblywoman Pheffer said that the site is not the only issue in question, but the funding as well.

"It would be a brand-new $400 million hospital," Pheffer said. "The two hospitals have been in discussions and will continue to be."

Pheffer also said that the hospitals have not yet agreed on a site. However, they have been asked to propose a mutually acceptable site when the parties meet with the Borough President next month. Pheffer vowed to do as much as she could to push the plan forward.

"The elected officials, including myself, want to do everything we can to make this happen," Pheffer said.

In the meantime, however, the Berger Commission report suggested an immediate downsizing of both hospitals. The Commission recommended that the hospitals decrease the number of beds serving patients. Peninsula has decreased their number of beds by nearly 100 and St. John's by 81. Even with this achieved, the Commission and Marshall are strongly pushing for a single hospital for residents of the peninsula.

The original Berger Commission report stated that even though the project will be a significant capital investment, the state and city cannot support two fully staffed, separate, outdated and underutilized hospitals in the Rockaways, even during a time of major development and population growth. Even though a deal still has not been announced, it is worth noting that talks about a merger are still in the works and are likely to continue until a deal is reached for a new facility.

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