2011-08-26 / Front Page

Short-Term Reprieve

Situation Is ‘Fluid’And Confused
By Howard Schwach

A s with many contentious situations, what is happening at Peninsula Hospital Center is both fluid and confused.

In the last 24 hours, the mantra concerning Peninsula has gone from “Will the last one out, please turn off the lights,” to “We’ll be open and ready if Hurricane Irene hits,” to “Now we have time to find a solution and keep the hospital open.”

On Tuesday, the New York State Department of Health ordered PHC to close the emergency room; accept no new patients; transfer all present patients to other hospitals; and submit a plan for the future of the hospital. On Wednesday, after two days of negotiations between several board members and a few “white knights,” and the state, however, that order was apparently lifted and those who are working to keep the hospital open began to see a ray of light at the end of the tunnel.

Then, at the end of another demonstration in front of the hospital on Wednesday night, public relations director Liz Sulik made a dramatic announcement: the state had given the hospital administration an unspecified amount of time to come up with a viable plan to keep the hospital open.

While ambulances will continue to divert to other hospitals, all the other hospital functions will continue and none of the patients will be transferred, Sulik said.

“All other outpatient services such as the Family Health Center and rehabilitation will remain fully operational and appointments should be kept as scheduled,” Sulik added.

The state, however, tells a different story.

At about 11 a.m. on Thursday morning, Diane Mathis, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health, in response to a query from The Wave, said, “The situation is fluid. The restrictions put in place at Peninsula by the state to protect patient safety currently remain in place, but could be lifted at any time if the hospital is able to demonstrate that it has adequate supplies, staffing and can meet payroll.”

The need for the vital hospital was seen last week and apparently pointed out to the state in the meetings.

On Saturday morning, three teenagers were involved in a high-speed crash into a brick wall at Beach 128 Street and Newport Avenue in Belle Harbor. Up until last week, the EMS protocol would have been a quick trip to Peninsula Hospital Center, but this time, with the PHC emergency room set at “diversion,” they were taken instead to Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn, 9.62 miles and more than 30 minutes away from the crash scene.

Experts say that the 30 minute trip to Brookdale, located at Linden Boulevard and Rockaway Parkway, will become the norm for residents if PHC closes its doors for good.

The last week has been a roller coaster ride for those negotiating for the hospital, its employees and the community it serves.

“Things change from hour to hour, there are good turns and bad turns and then everything is upside down,” said Mure. “One minute you’re hopeful that you can pull it off and save the hospital, and the next minute you’re unsure of how it could ever be saved.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Mathis issued a prepared statement on the hospital situation, noting the actions the hospital was ordered to take.

“Ambulances will be diverted to other emergency departments until an operational plan can be implemented to assure patient safety,” Mathis said.

“No new patients should be admitted to Peninsula pending the approved operational plan.

“Peninsula must prepare a plan for the safe transfer and discharge for each patient remaining in the hospital. The hospital will perform outreach to surrounding hospitals to secure bed availability for these patients.” She added, “Additionally, vendor actions are affecting supplies and services at the hospital, including the delivery of intravenous fluids, laundry supplies, operating room supplies, and garbage services. Movement by employees to other hospitals is affecting the availability of staffing.”

That order has apparently been lifted by the state, at least in the short term.

Board member and attorney Joe Mure said on Monday that one of the major problems facing the board member committee – made up of Mure, Lou Caucig, George Greco, Nancy Vardakis and Steve Greenberg – is fighting two men who wield a lot of power in the ongoing negotiations; PHC CEO Robert Levine and Board Chair Joseph Miele, a former city commissioner who, insiders say, has for many years unilaterally run the board.

“This had become a very adversarial situation,” Mure told The Wave. “[Levine and Miele] keep telling the state that the hospital has to close down, while we keep saying that we have the money and the supplies to keep it going while we find somebody to take it over. We are still able to give our patients proper care.”

The trustee committee is trying to raise millions of dollars from two different physician-led groups.

Local sources say that representatives from both groups visited the hospital last Friday, August 19 to see whether or not it could be salvaged.

One of the groups, the sources say, is from New Jersey and the physicians are backed by investors with experience in turning around troubled hospitals, while the other includes staff physicians presently at the hospital.

Meanwhile, union officials from Local 1199 responded to The Wave story that a deal had been cut between the union and MediSys to close the hospital in order to recover the money owed by PHC.

“1199 SEIU has made every effort possible to save Peninsula Hospital from closure. It has always been the union’s position that closure was an unacceptable outcome for the community and seriously diminishes access to vital healthcare services in a borough that has already endured multiple closures.

“The union drew attention to the hospital’s dire fiscal situation back in May and worked aggressively with the state DOH, Peninsula and St. John’s to explore viable solutions. Even when the hospital defaulted to the workers benefit fund last year, every attempt was made to work with them to resolve the arrears and they were granted multiple extensions and great latitude to find a solution. In fact, while the Fund had a legal right to seize the monies Peninsula owed towards its millions in arrears, it did not — in the interest of keeping the hospital running.

“It is not in the unions or our members’ interests for the hospital to close and that is why we have been raising the issue for months in an effort to stave off the crisis we are now facing. Unfortunately, Peninsula’s CEO gravely misled the hospital’s workers, elected officials and the community when he continued to insist that the hospital was not broke and everything was fine.

“There is absolutely no agreement between the union and MediSys. In fact another MediSys facility, Brookdale Medical Center in central Brooklyn, is also in severe fiscal crisis and 1199 called for the resignation of CEO Bruce Flanz and the hospital’s board back in May. Flanz is also the head of the MediSys network.

“Since Peninsula was deemed completely insolvent by DOH auditors, events have developed with great speed and it has taken an emotional and traumatic toll on both the workers and the community. While we work to preserve as many of our members’ jobs as possible in the event of a closure, the union has and continues to stand ready to explore any viable alternative to prevent it from happening.”

A press time, the situation remains unresolved.

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