Shah Blows Off Rockaway
Some of those who came to speak told of the financial hardships caused by the layoff of more than 700 Rockaway residents.
Others came to scream at State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah and his staff because they believe that the closure of the hospital was a conspiracy on the part of the state to save money by closing costly medical facilities and opening wellness centers in their stead.
In all, more than 75 people signed up to speak. They all came to speak directly to Shah, who made the decision to close down the vital medical facility. However, all but a dozen were disappointed and angered when, after an hour into the four-hour meeting, Shah spoke quietly on his phone, left the room, never to return, leaving three of his staff members to stare at the audience for the next three hours.
Mure, a local attorney and one of the three operating committee members who are now fighting to reopen the hospital, told The Wave that he was “greatly disappointed” by Shah’s quick exit.
“I came to speak and I wanted [Shah] to hear what I had to say,” Mure said. “Now, he showed his great disrespect for the Rockaway community and there is nobody left for me to say that to.”
Speaker after speaker berated the Department of Health.
State Senator Malcolm Smith, who said that he had been negotiating with Shah and was sorry to see him leave the meeting three hours early, said, “When you close one door another one opens, but in this case, the door that opened is the door to death.”
When one member of the overflow crowd that jammed the Knights of Columbus Hall on Thursday afternoon heckled Shah while he was making a statement before he left, Smith retorted to the heckler, “I know you’re pissed off. I’m pissed off too, but let him speak.”
In his statement, Shah said, “I know you’re not getting quality medical care now, and I wish that there was a magic bullet to fix that, I wish it were that easy, but it is not. We have to find how best to meet the needs of the community in both the long and short term.” With that, he was gone. While some politicians, like Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, Assemblywoman
Michele Titus and State Senator Shirley Huntley cut the long speaker’s line to make their viewpoints heard, others, such as City Councilman Eric Ulrich and Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder waited their turn along with community members and former hospital staff.
One of those most interested in the proceedings was Rockaway resident Hadiyah Crum, 32, who was shot in the leg on April 29 in front of her apartment on Beach 51 Street, right across the street from the shuttered hospital.
Crum told reporters outside the hearing that she was hit in the right leg and had vascular entanglement. She was bleeding badly, she said.
“I was scared that I was going to die,” she said. “I had to wait for the ambulance to come and then take the ride to Jamaica. The whole thing was ridiculous, with a hospital right across the street and I had to wait all that time to get treatment.”
“I was angry that PHC was not an option,” she added.
Others were angry as well.
One nurse told the story of an elderly patient in the nursing home who died because she refused to get on an ambulance for a long, painful ride.
Councilman Ulrich was angered at Shah for leaving before the meeting was scheduled to end.
“He works for us, we don’t work for him,” Ulrich said angrily.
Three health department officials were left to field the anger of the community: Richard Cook, Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Health Systems Management; James Clancy, Assistant Commissioner, Office of Government and External Affairs and Associate Commissioner Celeste Johnson.
Officials said that a health department report on the hearing and its findings would be issued in about six weeks.