2011-09-02 / Top Stories

PHC Remains Open

Most Services Restored
By Howard Schwach

After more than a month of angst, closure orders, community demonstrations and all-night meetings, Peninsula Hospital Center has emerged this week up and running, with the only remnant of the month the fact that the emergency room is still in diversion and not taking ambulance patients.

“We are fully operational with the exception of diversions from the emergency room,” Liz Sulik, the hospital’s director of external affairs, said on Monday, adding that she expected that the state would soon open the emergency room to ambulances as well.

That is a big change from late July, when the hospital center sent “Warn Notices” to all of its employees telling them that the hospital was in the process of a shut-down that would take perhaps several months.

Officials said that the shut-down was due to large debts and an inability to make payroll for its employees.

On August 4, however, at a rally at PS 114 in Belle Harbor, Dr. Martin Grossman told the crowd that the doctors had been told not to schedule any procedures later than August 18.

On August 22, the same day that another protest rally was held, this one at the St. Francis de Sales playground, MediSys, the healthcare giant that was the chief sponsor of PHC for the past two years, cut off its sponsorship of the troubled hospital and the shared services it provided.

Ole Pedersen, a spokesperson for MediSys, told The Wave at the time that his company “had no choice but to cut its ties with PHC.”

“We put money into the hospital that we will never see again,” he said. “We tried to insure that payroll was available and the benefits paid. We went to significant effort to put in new programs, new staff, and improve the billing situation, but we were too late.”

Then, on August 24, the state’s Department of Health, fearing for the safety of the hospital’s patients and noting the lack of the hospital’s ability to pay its employees, ordered the hospital shut down.

The state order required that the hospital close its emergency room, admit no new patients, make a plan to ship its present patients to other “appropriate facilities,” and come up with a plan that would allow it to resume operations.

At the time, a number of board members had formed a committee to keep the hospital open and to find a “white knight” that would offer financial assistance.

Members of that committee said that both the hospital’s CEO Robert Levine and its board chairman Joseph Miele, were working hard to close the hospital.

Miele has since come to the other side, sources say, and is working with the committee to keep the hospital open.

A board committee member, who asked not to be identified because the negotiations for a long-term solution to keep the hospital open are at a critical stage, said this week that a deal might be near.

The Board of Directors met on Monday and reportedly selected one of three potential investors, and several board members hinted that the deal could be made as soon as next week.

According to a published story in Crain’s Business Weekly on Thursday, that investor is Revival Home Health Care, a 10-year-old for-profit agency that largely serves the Orthodox Jewish community.

The Revival deal reportedly includes both the hospital and the adjacent nursing home. If the deal is signed, and it may be signed sometime around The Wave’s Thursday deadline, then the state’s Department of Health would have to vet the deal.

Crain’s said in its story that the hospital would be run as a for-profit business and that Revival would appoint its own board of directors to run the facility. Present board members declined to talk about the deal until it is finalized.

“We’re not going to pop the champagne until the ink drys, board member Lou Caucig told reporters. “It’s in the hands of the lawyers.

Another board member, Joe Mure, told The Wave that he feels “very positive” about recent discussions. “We are open and we are going to stay open.”

A spokesperson for the state’s health department said that restrictions are being removed from the hospital slowly.“Patients are able to be admitted, however the ambulance diversion remains in place pending a plan by the hospital that showing its ability to accept emergency patients.”

“Service is up and running,” said Sulik.

There is still anger among doctors and staff, however.

One staff doctor filed a lawsuit in Queens Supreme Court last week, charging that the hospital administration lied to state officials in order to expedite the hospital’s closure.

Dr. Wayne Dodakian, who had been an outspoken critic of Levine and his administration, alleged in his suit that Levine was “motivated by a personal desire to see the Peninsula Hospital Center shut down.”

The suit charges that Levine lied to the State Health Department. One example cited in the suit is that Levine “reported garbage-strewn facilities,” when in fact, that was not true.

The suit also names State Department of Health Deputy Commissioner Richard Cooke and FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano as defendants.

“We are taking new patients and our emergency room is open for walkins,” Sulik said.

“We expect that soon we will be fully operational and back taking ambulance patients as well.”

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