Driving home from the Sunday press conference called by Congressman Bob Turner and Councilmember Eric Ulrich in front of the huge “Hospital Closed” sign on the front door of Peninsula Hospital Center, I kept trying to identify the word to describe my feelings after listening to Congressman Bob Turner, NYS Senator Malcolm Smith and NYC Councilman Eric Ulrich publicly demand a response from the non-responsive NYS Department of Health and the Governor’s office. As I pulled into my garage, the word came to me – CONTEMPT – in its worst form by both the Governor and the DOH!
From the beginning of the PHC closure process, the treatment of the Rockaway Community by the New York State Department of Health, the Governor’s Office, and indeed even the court-appointed Trustee, has been nothing short of utter and complete contempt.
Many of our elected officials have been requesting answers from the NYS Department of Health for well more than a month concerning the abrupt closure of Peninsula Hospital Center.
Certified letters to both the Governor’s Office and to the NYS DOH have gone without response, telephone calls and requests for public meetings and information have been brushed aside and even the law stating that a community meeting must be held in the event of a closure has been disregarded – all of this under a veil of secrecy and vague non-committal responses.
Yes, the closure affects some 800 employees of the Hospital Center who now must find other jobs or collect Unemployment, but without a doubt, the consequences of such contempt go ever so much further – and carry consequences with poisonous tentacles that reach far into the Rockaway community. These tentacles reach into one of the most underserved, elderly, ill and isolated populations in Queens County. They reach people who were receiving lifesaving chemotherapy treatments; they reach people who are in need of disease maintenance care; they reach thousands of people who depend upon Emergency Treatment and those dependent upon routine and preventative health care – close to home. For the first time in the 43 years I have lived in this community, I have heard people talk about being frightened because of the lack of healthcare. This is absolutely not to disparage in any way the healthcare institutions that remain in place such as the Addabbo Family Health Center and St. John’s Episcopal Hospital. They are there for the community to be sure, but are now expected to provide services they are not equipped to provide for so many people. Unfortunately, people will die and it will be as the result of a government in which we, the people, have been asked to place our trust.
The NYS DOH, on its website, proudly “commemorated National Public Health Week, April 2-8, 2012. State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., highlighted recent public health achievements in New York and pledged to build on these efforts to ensure all New Yorkers enjoy optimal health.”
“Public health is an area where strong partnerships and proactive policies can make a difference in preventing disease and helping people live healthy, productive lives,” Commissioner Shah said. “With each achievement in public health, there is another challenge to face, but we are committed to providing the critical services, [emphasis added] health education and interventions needed to improve health outcomes for all New Yorkers.” With all due respect, this proud press release flies in the face of the complete contempt the NYS DOH has shown to this community.
I have never been a subscriber to conspiracy or subversive theories. My job at Peninsula Hospital Center as its Director of External Affairs was basically to disseminate information to the community. I was summarily dismissed at 4:55 p.m. on a Friday afternoon by telephone at the very beginning of the closure process. Ordinarily, when a hospital is to be closed, the public affairs people are some of the last to go to make sure that every aspect of the process can be publicized and the community dependent upon the services can be appropriately advised. Understanding the critical financial strain, I made several offers both in writing and verbally to the Trustee and the remaining COO (as did others) to come back on a volunteer basis so that the community, advisory council, donors, auxiliary, benefactors and so many others could be appropriately and factually notified as well as thanked for their dedication and generosity over the years. During my last visit and final plea, I was pretty much told that I was persona nongrata at the Hospital Center, no longer an employee and had no business being on the premises. That alone speaks volumes as to the fact that information concerning anything about the Hospital Center was very carefully guarded. Gag orders were placed on the remaining members of the administration. The information concerning the laboratory and why the DOH refused to re-inspect it was shrouded in mystery.
Employees themselves weren’t given facts. Why? Why the secrecy? Why the lack of honest information?
When there are so many generous, dedicated and involved people ready, willing and able to help and get involved, why were they kept in the dark? Why were members of this community refused the opportunity to help? Why were any potential solutions completely discredited and ignored, or if not ignored, why were they kept so secretive? The Board of Directors was quickly and quietly disbanded adding to the confusion and lack of information. As we all know, when honest and forthright information is not forthcoming, it gives rise to speculation and rumor and frankly, secrecy works wonders at preventing anyone from doing anything positive, reactive or proactive as a cohesive group. The complete failure to release any information sounds to me, very much like something purposeful and in this case, cause for suspicion.
We, as a community, cannot afford to sit idly by, do nothing and accept the NYS DOH’s contempt for us. It could be your life you save by speaking up now. This isn’t just about the closure of Peninsula Hospital Center – this is about the failure of our Governor and appointed health care officials’ commitment to provide (as the NYS DOH put it) critical health services to all New Yorkers. Last I checked, the Rockaways were a part of New York.
Whether or not Peninsula Hospital Center is ever reopened, you need to contact the Governor’s office and the NYS Department of Health and express your outrage at the contempt this community has been shown. It is completely unacceptable. Our community deserves much better.