East End Matters...
They came and they kept coming. They filled all the seats and then they sat on tables and wall ledges. In the end many wound up standing. On Tuesday night the Knights of Columbus Hall was filled with people, wall to wall, hoping to hear a new proposal to keep Peninsula Hospital Center open. Elsewhere in this issue you can read the particulars concerning the People’s Choice Hospital Group’s offer to buy PHC and instantly put more than $20 million (plus an additional $10 million by people like Revival Health Care) into the ailing hospital. What was evident on Tuesday night was that the time had come for the community to take charge of a life and death issue that was being decided by others. The Department of Health, the court, and the trustee appointed by the court are among those who have no connection to Rockaway, yet are making decisions for us.
The most important one in that group right now is the trustee – Lori Lapin Jones. She came in, former PHC employees say, with promises to work to keep the facility open. Yet, as soon as her appointment was approved, less than two weeks ago, she fired the residents and announced intentions to close PHC. Yes, I know that her loyalties are to those owed money by the hospital. But, she never took the time to work with the staff and the community. Actually it was more like she refused to help to save the hospital.
On March 27, the day after it was announced the hospital would close, I had the opportunity to speak with some of the now former staff of PHC. Lab worker Susan Greene, who has worked at the facility for almost 41 years, said that Jones refused offers from staff to work without being paid as well as an offer from Revival Home Health Care (the current investors in PHC) of $1 million to help the hospital. She said the new lab was now state of the art, but the DOH did not even come to inspect it. These were stories I heard again and again from those I spoke with – from lab techs to nurses and doctors. Apparently though, the DOH is now saying that an inspection did occur. At the meeting Tuesday, Senator Malcolm Smith said he was told by DOH that an inspector did come to the lab but that there was no one working in it at the time of visit. Really? You mean security just let a person walk into the hospital and then the lab without any escort? Without signing in?
Tuesday’s meeting was run by former hospital PR representative Liz Sulik, who said that there has been “an enormous lack of transparency” coming out of PHC in the last few weeks. Board member Joe Mure said there were “several potential investors.”
The representative for People’s Choice Hospital group even gave Rockaway residents some free advice. Dr. Seth Guterman said that it was imperative to “generate a spontaneous lab inspection.” This he said would “force the trustee to delay closure” because if the lab is open, the hospital can be open for business. In the meantime a meeting was scheduled for this past Wednesday with Jones and the People’s Choice representatives.
“Your doors have to stay open,” said Guterman. “Too many hospitals are closing.”
So where are we now? As I write this on Wednesday morning, the hospital is scheduled to be closed on Monday at 9 a.m.
It is very possible that, as was told to me on Tuesday, the hospital will first have to close before it reopens. It also might be of benefit for PHC to take on a new name. It was a grassroots effort that helped build the hospital in the early 1900s. Now residents must not only work to reopen it, but also to guard against anyone wishing to take it apart and sell off its assets. Not an easy task. And they can use all the help they can get. Isn’t it time that St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, which is overflowing with so many cases since PHC closed its own emergency room that it has gone on diversion, publicly throw its support behind PHC? We need more than one hospital in Rockaway. There is no doubt about that. On Tuesday, Smith said his objective was to make sure that the peninsula had ‘a’ hospital. It was a remark that brought a loud response from the large crowd that reminded him we need two hospitals, not one.
The turnout of the community, along with former PHC staff members, to a meeting that was only one day in the making was unprecedented. It showed that everyone had been pushed to the limit. Rockaway finally took their future into their hands and said, “We are not going to be pushed around anymore.”