PHC To Close Doors
“Unless there’s a hail Mary pass that brings lots of money, the Peninsula Hospital Center will close by the end of the year,” a hospital official, who asked not to be identified because she has no permission to speak with the press, told The Wave this week.
“There seems to be no help from the politicians, no help from anywhere,” the source said. “St. John’s [Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway] didn’t want anything to do with us because our debt burden is just too high, and we are beginning a “major transition,” with an eye to closing before the end of the year, or perhaps sooner.”
“It seems to be a fait accompli,” the source added.
Employees were notified of the closing at an “emergency meeting” on July 22. They were told that they would each get a written notice of the closing and their rights, one union representative said.
“We were smacked in the face with this,” one longtime worker told the Daily News. “You work here all your life and you dedicate yourself, then they tell you they are closing.”
The death of the vital local hospital came after extensive talks among the state, MediSys, the giant healthcare firm that owns the hospital, Local 1199 of the health care workers union and St. John’s.
Those talks, sources say, were aimed at merging the two hospitals, a plan that would have saved 300 jobs.
With $60 million in debt, including $20 million to the union’s benefit fund, that plan became untenable.
In addition to what it owes, the hospital is currently running a $10 million yearly deficit.
State sources say they expect St. John’s to take on much of the in-patient care now provided by Peninsula, but that it is not equipped to take on the large amount of ambulatory and emergency care.
Nobody seems to know what hospital will be available to take over that ambulatory and emergency care.
There may, however, be a savior in the mix, in the guise of the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center, a federally qualified health center headquartered on Beach 62 Street in Arverne that currently provides outpatient care to many Rockaway residents, especially those without insurance.
“We are grieved that a fine institution has been lost to the community,” said the health center’s Executive Director, Dr. Peter Nelson. “We have been in discussion with [Local] 1199 and state health officials about assuming responsibility for ambulatory, dental and family health care.”
Nelson added, “I have never worked with a better administrator than [PHC CEO] Bob Levine. He is an honest and honorable man.”
Since neither of the Rockaway hospitals has a trauma unit, those who need that extra care must now go to Jamaica Hospital.
There is general agreement that the hospital closing will mean the loss of upwards of 800 jobs, most of them now held by Rockaway residents.
To Jonathan Gaska, the district manager for Community Board 14, the closing came as a surprise.
He told The Wave that he first heard of the closing on Monday morning, when he was called for comment by a radio station.
When asked for comment on the closing, Gaska said, “Wow! This is unbelievable. PHC is an important part of the peninsula, the community, both for jobs and for health care. What a disaster. The hospital performs a vital service. I hope that the governor or somebody comes along and finds a way to keep it open.”
The Peninsula Hospital Center, located at Beach 51 Street, will officially close 90 days after state officials confirm a closure plan for the 200-bed hospital.
Hospitals in Brooklyn and Queens are among the most financially strained in the city, largely because they serve poorer communities and rely heavily on Medicaid for revenue. Many Queens hospitals are struggling.
Peninsula, once an independent hospital, joined the MediSys Health Network several years ago so that it could reap financial benefits from being part of a system.
But now MediSys can no longer afford to carry the hospital. Ole Pedersen, the vice president for public affairs for MediSys, issued a statement on Monday afternoon.
He said, “The management of Peninsula Hospital Center and the MediSys Health Network Inc. has been working with the New York State Department of Health and other parties to try and find a workable solution to the deep financial crisis facing Peninsula Hospital Center.
“Peninsula has been struggling financially for several years prior to its sponsorship by MediSys, the Queens and Brooklyn based network that has attempted to make Peninsula financially viable in the current difficult economic market.
“A series of meetings have been held recently that included discussions with St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, Local 1199, and State officials, among others, to develop approaches to meet the health care needs of the Rockaway communities. Without a long-term solution that puts Peninsula Hospital Center on the path to fiscal recovery, an organized closure may be the only option.
“Everything possible is being done in the best interest of the communities’ healthcare needs and we will continue to work with the State DOH and other parties during this process.”
Pedersen told The Wave that the nursing home attached to the hospital is “a separate issue,” and that the decision will probably be made to sell it off as an asset.
In fact, insiders say, since nursing home beds (i.e. slots for patients) are limited by law, the Peninsula beds have real value.
“[The closing of the hospital] will hopefully be a slow, sensible process,” he said. “We have to submit a plan to the state’s Department of Health, and they have to approve it. It should take some time, but things have a way of falling apart quickly.”
“We’re not going into bankruptcy,” he concluded. “We don’t want all the assets going to the lawyers.”
Reportedly, state officials have told Peninsula Hospital that there is no hope of state funds to end either the deficit or the cash flow problem faced by the hospital.
Senator Malcolm Smith told The Wave that “there are good days and other days, and that it would be an other day when the vital hospital closes.”
Smith said that he has talked to all the players, with the exception of the union, which hasn’t returned his calls.
“There are two priorities,” Smith said. “The first is to maintain the services both for those in the hospital and those who might need it in the future. The second is the critical loss of 700 jobs. The health department has told me that there will be retraining money for those who lose their jobs. While I will try and keep the hospital afloat, it will not be easy. In the long run, we need some kind of restructuring in the way hospitals are funded and managed.”
City Councilman James Sanders Jr., who represents the district where the hospital is located, said, “Now it’s coming to a place where we must ensure that quality health care still takes place. I believe that all is not lost. I am fighting to keep the facility open.”
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall said, “I will call on state health officials to convene an emergency meeting to explain the future of healthcare for more than 100,000 residents of the Rockaway peninsula.
“Peninsula will be the fourth hospital to close in Queens in less than a decade. It comes at a time when unprecedented new housing and infrastructure improvements are being built and it puts the future in peril for approximately 1,000 employees.
“I cannot imagine how St. John’s Episcopal Hospital – the only other hospital on the peninsula – will be able to handle the overcrowding in the emergency room that will take place as a result of this closing. We have already seen the effect on surrounding hospitals when St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals closed.
“Once again, Queens will now lose more beds and the bleeding of Queens’ hospitals will continue.
“Although many hospitals are facing financial challenges and have been struggling with cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, much time was invested in efforts to keep Peninsula Hospital open.”
The union issued a statement earlier in the week that read, “The debt and deficit of Peninsula General are formidable problems, beyond the means of St. John’s, the State of New York or any other responsible party to address. As a consequence, 1199 has dedicated itself to preserving the maximum number of jobs, to ensuring that Peninsula pays its bill to the benefit fund and to the continuation of urgent, ambulatory and ambulatory surgical care on the site of PHC.”
The state’s former health care restructuring panel – the Berger Commission – had recommended in 2008 that Peninsula and St. John’s merge into a single entity, and that a new hospital be built with an inpatient capacity of between 350 and 400 beds. The commission said in its report that “two separate, inefficient and outmoded facilities” should not serve an area of Queens “which is experiencing major development and population growth.” The recommendations were never implemented.
Democratic District Leader Lew Simon says that he is “angered and saddened by the decision to close the hospital.”
“This is a major catastrophe for Rockaway,” he said. “We have so many seniors and so many disabled, that people who have a stroke or a heart attack will be placed in grave danger.”
On Monday afternoon, Crain’s New York Business reported that at a recent meeting, members of 1199 SEIU were briefed on a plan to lease the Peninsula site to another provider who can offer urgent care, ambulatory surgery and ambulatory care services. The strategy, Crain’s says, would preserve health services in Far Rockaway while saving several hundred of the 1,000 jobs that will be lost when Peninsula closes.
According to Crain’s, St. John’s would take on Peninsula’s inpatient capacity, while the unnamed leaser would pick up the urgent care and ambulatory services, but The Wave has not been able to independently vet that contention.
State health care officials said they have not yet received the 90-day notice before closure and could not comment until they have seen it.
“We are in discussion with the parties and reviewing options to preserve access to health care for the community and to create a sustainable system to do so,” said Jeffrey Gordon, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Health.
Many west end residents fear the worst, however.
“St. John’s is 25 minutes away and the hospitals in Brooklyn are even further,” said one recent PHC patient who asked not to be identified. “This community is going to be hit hard, both in jobs and in health care. I don’t know what I would do next time I need an emergency room.”
Employees say they will hold a rally at the hospital from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on August 3. The rally will include a candlelight vigil at the hospital gate. The employees urge all Rockaway residents who want to see the hospital stay open to come to the rally and be heard.