2012-04-20 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

PHC Is Closed But Questions Remain
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Peninsula Hospital Center is closed, and it is only a matter of time before somebody dies.

Perhaps it will be an elderly man who has a stroke and dies when the Marine Parkway Bridge is up at the time an ambulance is trying to get him to a Brooklyn hospital.

Perhaps it will be a surfer who hits the rocks at Beach 90 Street and dies while the ambulance is trying to navigate the bumper-to-bumper Van Wyck Expressway.

Perhaps it will be a toddler with asthma who has an attack in school and can’t get to a hospital in time for treatment.

Perhaps it will be a car accident victim who can’t get an ambulance because it was reassigned to a Brooklyn job after dropping off a patient at Coney Island Hospital.

Perhaps it will be an adult woman who has chest pains and is told by her doctor to get herself to South Nassau Hospital or Long Beach Hospital for treatment.

Or, perhaps it will be all of them.

The state’s Department of Health is playing Russian roulette with Rockaway lives to fulfill a political purpose – reducing the number of hospital beds on the peninsula.

Peninsula Hospital Center was an easy target for the state to pick off and close.

The leadership of MediSys drained the hospital and then walked away, leaving it bankrupt and bereft of leadership.

When MediSys came several years ago, the hospital was functioning, but in financial trouble. When it left, the hospital was on the ropes, barely able to lift a glove in its own defense.

All that was left was for Revival Home Healthcare and its affiliates to come in and pick its bones.

It is true that in the two months before the state closed the hospital’s clinical lab in February, PHC was slightly in the black, due mostly to new bookkeeping and collection procedures.

Underneath, however, CEO Todd Miller, a longtime Revival functionary with no expertise in running a hospital, was listening to the wrong people and running the hospital into the ground.

Miller, for example, was warned in December that the lab was toxic and would be closed if the state came along for an inspection.

He never told his bosses, the board of directors operating committee, about the report.

Perhaps he did not understand its implications. Perhaps he wanted to hide his incompetence from the board. Perhaps his loyalty to Revival and its owner, Steve Zakheim, kept him from telling the locals about the report. Perhaps he showed the report to his medical advisor and was told not to worry about it, that it would be taken care of.

In any case, two months later the lab and the great majority of the hospital functions – including the vital emergency room – were closed down.

I have heard various reports about the lab.

The problem is, the Department of Health refuses to inspect the lab until the hospital’s paperwork is in order, until it presents a written remedial plan.

It seems to me that closing a laboratory and then the hospital that supports it when the community badly needs that facility is a lot like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Come and do an inspection. If the lab is as bad and problematic as you say, close it. If the work done by the staff during March has actually brought the lab up to code, then open it and the hospital.

The hospital is too important to be left to a paperwork glitch.

Now, the hospital is closed and it is unsure whether or not its operating certificate has been returned to the state.

That is critical, because somebody coming in to reopen the hospital can do so quickly if the operating certificate is in place. If not, it could take a year to get a new one.

There are lots of heroes and villains in this piece.

The heroes include operating committee members Joe Mure, Steve Greenberg and Lou Caucig, three local men who worked tireless hours from July to March trying to keep the hospital open. Did they make mistakes? I think they made a mistake by giving Revival a foot in the door, but they tell me they had no choice if they wanted to keep the hospital open, and I believe them. The hospital’s staff and especially its nurses and Dr. Wayne Dodakian did yeoman service in keeping the hospital open after the MediSys fiasco. Dodakian made a last ditch effort by brining a lawsuit in federal court seeking to remove the trustee, Lori Lapin Jones, but was forced to pull the suit when it became clear that a bid made by a Chicago medical group was not viable. Then, there’s the hundreds of local residents who turned out for each and every rally in July and August, and then again in March.

And, if there are heroes, there have to be villains.

First comes MediSys, whose CEO went to prison recently for bribing politicians to get favors for the company. Then, there is Bob Levine, the former

PHC CEO. I really liked Bob and thought he was doing a good job until I spoke recently with hospital staffers. He is universally reviled by them for destroying the hospital through mismanagement and cronyism.

Next comes Local 1199 of the Healthcare Union, which seems more interested in recouping the money owed it by the hospital than in keeping 1,000 people in a job. Staffers tell me that union officials actually told them that they wanted to get it over with and get their money back.

Then, there is the DOH, a group that is responsible for health care in the state and has refused to even take a look at the laboratory to see if it is ready to go.

Officials of the court told workers recently that the idea is to reduce the number of large health care facilities such as hospitals as a cost-cutting device. Costs will be cut – and people will die. That is the way of the world today where money counts more than lives.

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