2011-08-12 / Columnists

East End Matters...

Save PHC; Investigate Closure Decision
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

Where was the outrage and demand for investigations before MediSys announced its plans to close Peninsula Hospital Center due to deep financial problems? For years rumors ran rampant. And for years administrators and then MediSys (which now runs PHC) explained the rumors away. State Senator Malcolm Smith, who told this reporter in April that the “hospital is in trouble” came away from a meeting that same day with assurance from the hospital’s CEO, Robert Levine, that closure was not imminent.

Now Smith has requested, in his August 4 letter to the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health, a full investigation into the decision to close Peninsula.

“Among the unresolved issues [concerning PHC] are important questions surrounding the financial management of said hospital. The community deserves answers,” wrote Smith in his letter to Commissioner Nirav R. Shah.

This is reactive. A proactive investigation might have discovered sooner, what seems to be, a policy of money over medicine. When the closure was first announced, a MediSys representative said, “Everything is being done in the best interest of the communities’ healthcare needs.” That comment was followed by the same representative telling The Wave, “We’re not going into bankruptcy. We don’t want all the assets going to the lawyers.” As this newspaper’s main editorial this week points out, bankruptcy would have saved the hospital. St. John’s Episcopal Hospital declared bankruptcy several years back and came out of it a much stronger institution. Bankruptcy for PHC would have saved jobs and put the community’s mind at ease about its healthcare. Yet, MediSys seems to have put its bottom line ahead of the welfare of those who live in Rockaway. The union, which has been campaigning to save jobs at the hospital and get better health care for the peninsula, also comes out ahead, if a source cited in the same editorial is correct. The closing and selling off of Peninsula’s assets will help SEIU 1199 recoup $30 million that it is owed by the hospital. Then again, according to sources, the union did ask the governor and elected officials, earlier this year, to arrange a takeover or merger of PHC.

St. John’s has said it will take over all the functions that PHC performed. But questions remain. Will St. John’s 251 beds be enough for the 100,000 people who live in Rockaway? Will the emergency room be able to handle the increased number of patients? As I mentioned in this column on July 29, while there were no numbers for PHC, the U. S. News and World Report’s website shows that, for the latest year available, SJEH had 32,137 emergency room patients and a total of 10,638 admissions. Its physicians performed 1,904 inpatient and 2,498 outpatient surgeries. What happens to the services that were exclusive to PHC in Rockaway – traumatic brain injury, radiation oncology and hospice? The staff members at St. John’s are good people. They will try as hard as they can to step up and take over all of the services now provided by PHC. But, are these realistic expectations? Probably not.

Attempts were made to merge the two Rockaway hospitals. Two studies – the Berger Commission and the Vision for Comprehensive and Sustainable Healthcare Delivery System (commissioned by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall) – each called for restructuring and combining the forces of the two Rockaway hospitals.

“A series of meetings took place at Borough Hall with Peninsula and St. John’s Episcopal Hospital even before the Berger Commission’s recommendation that the two hospitals merge,” said Marshall in a July 25 press release after PHC’s closure was announced. “Meetings continued to take place, even as late as last week in Albany to address the hospital’s growing debt problem.”

Marshall has requested that “state healthcare officials convene an emergency meeting to explain the future of healthcare for more than 100,000 residents of the Rockaway peninsula.”

In the meantime, a full investigation into the problems at PHC and the decision to close it must begin immediately and the hospital should be kept open until it is completed. An investigation will slow down the rush to close the hospital, hopefully shed light on what caused this vital link to the well-being of Rockaway to sputter out of financial control and perhaps recommend a solution other than closure.

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