2011-08-05 / Front Page

SJEH To Take PHC Functions

By Howard Schwach

PHC Staff members and politicians at a rally that was held on Wednesday night. Officials now say the hospital may be closed within 30 days. PHC Staff members and politicians at a rally that was held on Wednesday night. Officials now say the hospital may be closed within 30 days. Now that the shock from the announcement of the closing of the Peninsula Hospital Center has abated somewhat in the past week, it begins to appear that most of the functions once delivered by that hospital will soon be delivered by St. John’s Episcopal Hospital instead.

The situation is admittedly fluid.

Late last week, The Wave was told that St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway would pick up PHC’s inpatient operation and emergency medical functions, while the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center on Beach 62 Street will pick up the ambulatory and family health functions previously provided by PHC.

That changed on Friday.

Now, the plan is that St. John’s will pick up all of the functions once provided by PHC, including emergency medicine, inpatient and outpatient duties.

And, SJEH may begin to do it soon.

“We’re working as quickly as possible to step up to the plate,” Nelson Toebbe, the CEO of SJEH, told The Wave on Tuesday. “PHC and MediSys have submitted their closing plan to the state and we expect the state to act very soon, perhaps within the next 30 days, to close the hospital. We thought that we would have more time, but this is what we have and we are already working on the capacity to take PHC’s patients.”

Toebbe added that he was giving up his office as a patient care room as soon as they find him space for another office.

“We have a heavy use now, but we can expand our capacity in a phased plan. We are already working to expand our clinics and our emergency room. We have the room, and what we don’t have now we will move immediately to make the accommodations. This will ultimately be a positive move for both the hospital and the community,” Toebbe said.

He concluded that the challenge will be great.

“We have to meet the health care needs of a population different from the more affluent areas of the city and we have to do it locally.”

When asked about time and distance from the far west end of the peninsula, Toebbe said, “I’m a newcomer to New York, but I have learned you don’t measure access by mileage, but by commuting time. We have worked with all of the ambulance services, including FDNY, Hatzolah and private services to improve transport time. We will also open some new facilities on the west end. We are already planning an ObGyn office in Belle Harbor. There will be more.”

SJEH will host a job fair for those who are losing their jobs at PHC. Toebbe won’t predict how many of the 700 PHC workers will be picked up by his hospital.

“We’re going to staff up to meet our needs,” was all he would say. “We believe that we owe the former PHC staff a first shot at those positions.”

Peninsula Hospital Center currently operates a 173-bed acute care community teaching hospital campus encompassing a 200-bed long-term care and rehabilitation center (Peninsula Center for Extended Care and Rehabilitation).

Officials of the 104-year-old hospital made an official statement about the closing late last week.

“The management of Peninsula Hospital Center is engaged in a program to close the Hospital over a period of several months, and in addition has distributed the federally required Warn Act Notices to all of the medical center’s employees on July 27,” said Ole Pedersen, the vice president for public affairs for MediSys, the giant healthcare system that owns and operates PHC. “This notice outlines employee’s rights; job retraining options and other benefits to which they may be entitled, as well as contact phone numbers and other assistance resources.”

Pedersen added that “PHC is working with all interested parties to preserve appropriate healthcare services for the residents of the Rockaway community and is continuing its involvement in meetings to evaluate all options.”

Robert Levine, president of Peninsula Hospital Center, stated, “We all share in the sadness of this very difficult decision, and extend our heartfelt sympathy to the hard-working and dedicated employees of this hospital.” PHC would become the third Queens hospital to close in recent years.

Mary Immaculate Hospital and Queens Hospital Center already closed their doors, inundating Forest Hills Hospital, which, officials say, is operating at above capacity.

Locals fear that St. John’s, too, will be flooded with patients who once used PHC.

“I don’t know how [St. John’s] is going to do it,” said one present PHC nurse who asked not to be identified. “They just don’t have the capacity to take all of the emergency cases handled by PHC, nor do they have the beds to take over all its inpatient work.”

“Any time a hospital closes, the largest impact is on access to emergency care,” said Terry Lynam, a spokesperson for Long Island Jewish Hospital, which locals say may feel the impact of the PHC closing. “That’s where other local hospitals’volume usually increases significantly.”

Borough President Helen Marshall has promised an emergency meeting with all of the concerned parties, including state health officials, PHC, SJEH, Addabbo FHC and LIJ.

“The closure of Peninsula Hospital is even more troubling [than that of the other Queens hospitals that closed] since it is located on a peninsula which is geographically isolated with very limited access by either private vehicle or mass transit,” Marshall wrote in a letter to the state’s health commissioner. “In the Rockaways, there are also more than 3,000 nursing home beds, six senior citizen housing developments and many facilities housing dependent populations who need access to quality medical care. There is a population of more than 100,000 residents and it is a beach community that attracts many people from all over the City.

“The closure of Peninsula Hospital comes at a time when there is a plethora of new housing and retail business development in the Rockaways,” she added. “The loss of this hospital represents the loss of more than 650 jobs of which approximately 65% are held by residents of the Rockaways. In addition, there are three distinct services provided by Peninsula Hospital that are not provided by St. John’s Episcopal Hospital and they are: Traumatic Brain Injury, Radiation Oncology and Hospice. In addition, there is great concern that St. John’s will not be able to handle the demands in an overcrowded emergency department.”

Marshall requested an emergency meeting in mid-September to address the closing.

On Wednesday night, hundreds showed up for a rally and candlelight vigil at the hospital. On Thursday night a well-attended meeting was held at PS/MS 114 on Beach 135 Street.

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