2011-08-12 / Front Page

It’s The Money

PHC Staff Charges Betrayal, Greed
By Howard Schwach


A standing-room-only crowd of local residents and PHC Staffers listened to some of the hospital’s doctors, union representatives and board members speak about the hospital’s impending closure. A standing-room-only crowd of local residents and PHC Staffers listened to some of the hospital’s doctors, union representatives and board members speak about the hospital’s impending closure. The auditorium at PS/MS 114 in Belle Harbor is usually filled with the laughter and music typical of young children.

On Thursday evening, August 4, however, the auditorium was filled with cries of “traitor” and “criminal” as hundreds of local residents and Peninsula Hospital Center staff members and doctors, many of whom live in Rockaway, excoriated Medisys, the giant health care company that owns the hospital, Local 1199 of the Healthcare Workers Union and hospital President and CEO Robert Levine. With more than 400 people crowding the room, filling virtually every seat and standing along the back wall, some of the hospital’s doctors, board members and union trustees said over and over that the hospital was rushing to close it doors and that the closing was all about money, not about the community’s health care nor about saving jobs.


Board members Lou Caucig, George Greco, Nancy Vardakis and Steve Greenberg at the raucous meeting. Board members Lou Caucig, George Greco, Nancy Vardakis and Steve Greenberg at the raucous meeting. Union representative Reggie Cardoza told the audience that he “felt betrayed” by his union. “Many of us have worked [for PHC] for 35 or 40 years,” he said. “We had a great team and we need that team back.” Cardoza confirmed to a Wave reporter that the betrayal comment came from the fact that his union had cut a deal with Medisys to close the facility rather than go into bankruptcy because each could have lost upwards of $15 million due to a bankruptcy court decision. By closing the facility, the valuable nursing care center and other assets can be sold so that the two organizations can recover the money owed by PHC.


Union representative Reggie Cardoza said that he felt “betrayed” by his union. Union representative Reggie Cardoza said that he felt “betrayed” by his union. Cardoza said that the workers would have been willing to “take a monetary hit to save the hospital, but were never asked.” Dr. Martin Grossman, who emceed the meeting, said that the doctors had offered to work for nothing until the monetary situation was straightened out, but were turned down by the administration.

Grossman said that the administration was already shutting down the hospital, bit by bit, despite the fact that there is a mandatory 90-day period between the time the hospital submits its closing plan, which was done last week, and the closing of the facility.

The doctor said that they were told not to book any procedures after August 18. Surgeons were told that there would be no elective surgery after that date.


The crowd cheers a statement by State Senator Malcolm Smith that he was calling for an investigation into the closing of the hospital. The crowd cheers a statement by State Senator Malcolm Smith that he was calling for an investigation into the closing of the hospital. “It seems that two weeks from now, we’ll be gone,” he said. “I am shocked at how quickly the administration has pulled the rug.”

“It’s all about the money,” said one of the hospital’s trustees, who asked not to be identified because she still has a board position. “Nobody seems to care one bit for the people of Rockaway.”

A number of the trustees at the meeting said that they had discussed going into bankruptcy, but never even discussed closing down.

That decision was made not by the PHC board, made up mostly of locals, but by the Medisys board.

Trustees were shocked to learn that, for the past two years, any decision made by the PHC board could be overturned by Medisys. There was a ray of hope offered by hospital board members Lou Caucig and George Greco.


Senator Smith and other politicians at Sunday’s press conference. Senator Smith and other politicians at Sunday’s press conference. They told the audience that they have found a Minneapolis (Minnesota) venture capital firm that specializes in restoring health care facilities.

While they would not disclose the name of the group, they did say that it was headed by a man named Frank

Paterno.

Greco said that the firm would pour up to $60 million into the troubled hospital, but only if it remained open. He added that there was a possibility that it would build an entirely new hospital on the present site.

Through the Internet, The Wave found that Paterno is the Managing

Director of Alvarez and Marsal, an international firm that has been a big player in the healthcare industry for the past 35 years.

The Wave reached out to the firm for comment on their involvement with PHC, but received no response, either by telephone or by email.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, State Senator Malcolm Smith held a press conference outside the State Department of Health’s offices in Manhattan.

At the press conference, Smith called for a 90-day moratorium on closing the hospital while locals found a way to save it.

“People will die. People will be out of work. And that doesn’t seem to matter to the money hungry greedy corporate executives who all only care about money,” said Dr. Wayne Dodakian of Peninsula Hospital. “Not about the people of the community. Not about the jobs that are going to be lost or the patients that are going to die because of it.”

Smith also called for a formal investigation by the State Health Department, attorney general and comptroller into the financial management of the hospital.

“I was there a month and a half ago and was told things were fine. Then, two months later there’s a $60 million debt and a million dollars a month being bled from the hospital financially. That tells me, I’m not a mathematician, I’m not an accountant, but clearly as a business person, there’s something wrong,” said Smith.

Smith asked the Department of Health not to accept the hospital’s closure plan until the investigation is complete.

Hospital workers say Peninsula, which handles more than 35,000 patient visits a year and employs about 1,000 people, is an essential part of the community.

“A lot of us have been working there for over 30, 40 years, and to just walk away like that, something is not right,” said one employee.

“I have been fighting for the cause to save Peninsula Hospital. Since January, February, March of this year, we lost our benefits. So we are fighting real hard right now to save the hospital,” said another.

Smith said the hospital will close on September 1 if the Department of Health accepts the closure plan. Peninsula would be the fourth hospital in the borough to close since 2008.

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