East End Matters...
The threat has hung over Rockaway for some time that one of the vital lifelines of the peninsula would close down. In February 2005 The Wave ran the article “Experts: PHC Demise Greatly Exaggerated.” In February 2006 the headline was “Once Again, Talk of PHC’s Demise.” Stories of monetary problems continued over the last few years. Despite constant denials with hospital officials explaining away shut down rumors and financial woes, it has become a harsh reality – Peninsula Hospital Center will soon close its doors. Earlier this year, a doctor who works out of the hospital said that the union had asked the governor and other elected officials to arrange a merger or takeover of the facility.
On April 29, State Senator Malcolm Smith told this reporter that, “The hospital [PHC] is in trouble,” just minutes before he was to attend a meeting at Peninsula. According to Smith, merger was to be the subject of the meeting. A representative for Smith said that the hospital’s CEO, Robert Levine, assured the legislator that the hospital was not in danger of closing. Yet, one week ago today, on June 22, hospital employees such as X-ray technician Kevin Harnisher, intensive care unit nurse Mary Burke, Rita Closky and their almost 1,000 co-workers found out they would soon be unemployed. The residents of Rockaway will be left with one hospital – St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway. That’s 251 beds for the whole peninsula – 100,000 people. U. S. News and World Report’s website shows that, for the latest year available, SJEH had 32,137 patients who visited the hospital’s emergency room. The hospital had a total of 10,638 admissions. Its physicians performed 1,904 inpatient and 2,498 outpatient surgeries. While there were no numbers for PHC, one can only imagine that replacing the 190 beds at Peninsula, plus the annual emergency room visits and other services will be very hard.
The former CEO of St. John’s, John Gupta, told Crain’s New York Business that the two Rockaway hospitals were in talks to work together. The Crain’s article said that the medical facilities were discussing opening “a freestanding urgent care facility, as well as of the ‘significant opportunity’ for the medical staffs of Peninsula and St. John’s to collaborate on ambulatory care services.” This is an excellent idea and something that was advocated in this column not too long ago. Crain’s also reported that “Gupta said Peninsula’s current financial crisis is not surprising given the hospital’s small size, needed building repairs, and government cuts to hospital reimbursement.”
Will the cavalry come in at the last moment and save PHC? A representative for Queens Borough President Helen Marshall said, “I don’t think so. It looks pretty grim.”
St. John’s is now a financially healthy facility and is probably reluctant to take on any merger or working relationship to save PHC – especially with the Arverne hospital owing $60 million in debt and a $10 million yearly deficit. But, SJEH may find that not helping Peninsula could put a strain on its own resources – both financially and to its personnel – as it attempts to fill the gap left by Peninsula’s closing.
At a March Town Hall meeting Senator Smith said, “I don’t expect to lose Peninsula Hospital... I’m committed to the health of the hospital or a merger.” Senator, what happened? As for the company that owns PHC, MediSys Health Network, their representative said, “Everything possible is being done in the best interest of the communities’ healthcare needs.” Let’s hope that remains MediSys’ main concern.
In June, the hospital union SEIU 1199 rallied claiming PHC was deep in debt, jobs were on the line and called for an alliance of Rockaway‘s two hospitals. A MediSys representative called it informational picketing, adding, “I believe they [the union] have issues with the benefits funds. It seems like now they are looking for other issues.”
Unfortunately for Rockaway, it turns out the union’s warnings were on target. One hospital cannot handle the needs of 100,000 people. If the cavalry is still waiting in the wings to come in and save Peninsula Hospital, now is the time to get it done. Otherwise, Rockaway is about to lose a vital service and for some, a lifesaving facility.