2012-07-20 / Top Stories

Angry Response To State’s PHC Report

By Howard Schwach

Dr. Wayne Dodakian at an earlier meeting. Dr. Wayne Dodakian at an earlier meeting. A number of locals, including a staff doctor who formerly worked at Peninsula Hospital Center, reacted angrily to the state report on the shuttered hospital, which appeared in last week’s edition.

The state report said that the vital hospital center died because of declining patient activity, massive financial problems that were exacerbated under the management of MediSys, and the failure of the hospital to maintain a mandated level of patient care and equipment maintenance.

According to the state statistics outlined in the four-page state report, 22,140 Rockaway residents were admitted to hospitals in 2010. A substantial portion of those residents, the report says, went to hospitals outside of Rockaway, with 13.5 percent going to Nassau County hospitals, 9.5 percent to Brooklyn, 8.3 percent to Manhattan and another 12.7 percent to other Queens hospitals off the peninsula. While 87.3 percent of the hospital’s patients were from Rockaway zip codes, the report says, PHC served only 20.8 percent of the market.

Bob Turner Bob Turner In addition, according to the report, “PHC’s debt and ongoing operational losses compromised patient safety as well as basic hospital operations. PHC was unable to meet payroll to retain adequate staffing, could not pay vendors providing such services as intravenous fluids, laundry services, operating room supplies or garbage removal.

Dr. Wayne Dodakian, who was a hospitalist at PHC, disagrees.

“The state report took a halftruth and turned it into a wholetruth for public consumption,” Dodakian told The Wave on Tuesday. “Patients who needed elective surgery often went off the peninsula to find it. Those patients did indeed go elsewhere, but that is the half-truth. The majority of our patients were sick and had no place else to go. They didn’t have a chance to elect PHC or another hospital. The ambulance brought them here and we treated them even though they often did not have insurance or even Medicaid. The state report turns its back on all of those patients and that’s the real shame of this whole incident.”

Dodakian talked about the contentious May meeting that brought about the report, a four-hour meeting that drew hundreds of Rockaway residents and PHC staff members.

“The state health people were there only because we shoved their faces in the law and I don’t believe they would have followed the law and held the meeting if we didn’t,” he said. “The fact that [State Health Commissioner Nirav] Shah left after an hour was an indication of that and of the utter disregard the department has for the people and the health of Rockaway. Nobody from the state understood the healthcare needs of the peninsula.”

“The state never closes a hospital because of problems in the lab,” he added, pointing out that Rockaway’s other hospital, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, has had an outside provider for its lab for more than a year. “They only closed PHC because they wanted to and they wanted to simply save money on treating at-risk patients in a minority community. The truth is, we were sabotaged by [Trustee Lori Lapin] Jones, the state health department and the trustees. They all worked together to make us go away.”

Dodakian argues that St. John’s has been told it cannot go into diversion and the halls of that Far Rockaway hospital are “clogged with patients lined up in the hallways.”

“Ambulances cannot leave until their patient is admitted,” the doctor adds. “Often that takes four to five hours and ambulances have to remain there, out of service, until the patient can be seen and either admitted or released.”

“We have a health care crisis,” he concluded, “one of the state’s making.”

Congressman Bob Turner, who lives in Breezy Point, also chided the state for its report.

“I am disappointed that the DOH feels that its report provides adequate insight into its decision to shut the doors of Peninsula Hospital Center for good,” he said. “The closure has created a healthcare emergency for the 130,000 yearround residents of the Rockaway community. I have not seen a single positive step taken by them to try and save the hospital and they have denigrated all of the community’s attempts to keep it open.”

“I truly wonder what their end-game might be,” Turner asked.

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