The Rockaway Beat
By the time you read this on Good Friday, the Peninsula Hospital Center might well in its death throes, scheduled to shut down at midnight tonight, April 6.
Federal Bankruptcy Trustee Lori Lapin Jones originally ordered the Peninsula Hospital Center closed by Friday, March 30 because, she said in a letter to the court, the state’s Department of Health (DOH) had completed a “preliminary review” of the newly renovated lab and “determined that substantial time, effort and expense would be required before the laboratory would be eligible for recertification,” a process that would “take several months” to complete.
The DOH confirmed that it had “reviewed” the lab and would work with Jones to insure an orderly closing.
From that exchange, one would infer that the DOH had come to the new lab at PHC and found it severely wanting.
It never did, and it has no intention of doing so until the paperwork is all in place, which might be long after the hospital closes for good.
After last week’s issue went to bed, health department spokesperson Michael Moran told me that there was never any reason to visit the hospital until the paperwork was in order.
“The procedure when a lab is shut down because it poses a health and safety risk to both patients and staff is for the facility to put together a detailed plan of correction that states how the hospital will correct the root causes of the problem, a plan of action to remediate the problems and a compliance date.
The plan submitted by PHC for preliminary review was inadequate in all of these three measures and the trustee was informed of that.”
Staffers argue that all the objections made in closing the lab in February have been addressed and remediated.
Rita Closky has worked in the PHC lab for 36 years.
She told me on Wednesday of last week that neither she nor anybody else in the lab has seen an inspector for the DOH at the lab since it was closed in February.
She says that what the state saw was “incomplete and out-of-date” data provided by hospital officials even after they were told that it would be counterproductive to do so.
“[Jones] and [CEO Todd] Miller were pushing to send some preliminary results, some data, to the DOH,” Closky said. “They were told by their own experts that the available data was old and incomplete, that they should submit a corrective plan without the data and invite the DOH to the lab, when the newer and complete data would be available, but they sent the incomplete data anyway.
The DOH inspectors never showed up, never walked in the door. All they did was evaluate the incomplete and old data that they got from the trustee and they used it to close us down.”
Closky added, “The staff worked triple time, overtime, weekends and weekdays to get the lab in shape for an inspection.
We are ready for that inspection and, in my professional opinion, we have complied with the state’s order and we are ready to reopen and begin taking patients.”
Another former staffer agrees.
“The review the trustee wrote about was apparently only a paper review,” said the staffer, who asked for anonymity because she still has to find a job in the health care industry. “The lab is in place and ready to go now, not several months from now. The DOH is wrong and so is the trustee. If they had come to the hospital, they would have realized that.
There is something going on and it seems like Jones and the DOH just want an excuse for shutting us down. How can you review a laboratory without even seeing it?”
I have to wonder whether the state should be closing a vital community service simply on the basis of faulty paperwork.
How about visiting the lab and seeing if it is ready to go.
The hospital is too important to the Rockaway community. It should not be closed because officials did not dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s.
It deserves at least a visitation and an inspection.
Then, if everything is not in place, we can understand why it needs to be closed. If everything is in place, than the paperwork should be worthless and the hospital should remain open.
It is a simple as that, but nothing is simple to a state bureaucracy. It has its rules and its rules must be obeyed even if somebody dies on the way to a Brooklyn hospital because PHC is closed.
The hospital closing has lots of ramifications for the community at large.
The obvious problem is with the local businesses that served the hospital with services such as heating oil, food, supplies, and the like.
The Dunkin Donuts a block from the hospital, once busy with staff looking for a coffee break and visitors stocking up on coffee and goodies to take to the patients they were going to visit, is now near-empty, with only the staff from PS 105, directly across the street, for regular customers.
The workers there told me last week that business is way down and they have little hope that it will pick up unless the hospital reopens.
There are more serious ramifications, however.
EMS officials told me that St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway has been put on ambulance diversion a number of times since the PHC emergency room closed late in February.
That means ambulances carrying local residents were sent to central Queens and Brooklyn hospitals for treatment because St. John’s was full up.
A friend of mine was having trouble breathing. Her regular cardiologist, a longtime doctor at PHC, told her to get into her car and go to South Nassau Community Hospital in Oceanside, a good 45 minutes from Rockaway.
Luckily, she was not critically ill, or she may not have lived through the trip.
I have been told by an ex-EMS staffer that the ambulances that leave Rockaway to take people to Brooklyn hospitals are then assigned to jobs in Brooklyn rather than returning immediately to Rockaway.
“As soon as they hit the “98” button showing they are free for assignment, they are assigned to the first job where they are,” the worker said. “It’s an incredibly long ride to Brooklyn and Rockaway is in serious trouble now that PHC is closed.”
He is right. We are in trouble and I would hate to think that it’s because the state DOH officials were too lazy to come to Rockaway to look at the lab for themselves.
Early this week, a Chicago outfit came forward and offered to buy all of the hospital’s debts in order to keep it open.
Locals were elated, but it is too early to know if the offer is meaningful. Lapin and the Chicago group met on Wednesday, but the results of the meeting have not been revealed
This story is not over even if the hospital closes tonight. That is the only thing involved with the hospital that is a certainty.