2013-06-21 / Columnists

Eye On Rockaway...

Addabbo Center’s Special Ed School Closing Shameful
by Miriam Rosenberg

Last week The Wave reported about the closing of the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center’s mental health clinic and Children’s Day Treatment center and the upheaval it is causing. But there is more to the story than what was written.

For almost two decades the program housed PS256Q at Peninsula Hospital Center as part of the Department of Education’s District 75 for Special Education students.

This year there were 16 students between the ages of 11 and 15, all of whom are from Rockaway. After Superstorm Sandy students and teachers were relocated to East New York.

According to someone, who asked not to be identified, they were notified five weeks ago that Addabbo would no longer be teaching the mentally ill. Now the race is on to find new schools for the students and new jobs for the teachers.

Until new school placements are made, the students and their parents will be facing uncertainty. Will there be enough room in one of the Special Ed schools here in Rockaway or will these students – who already have enough to go through – have to continue to travel off of the peninsula?

The frustrating thing is the school could have remained open. The Board of Education was behind them. The school found a new site in Rockaway. Everything was set, but Addabbo’s Board of Directors nixed the plan.

In November 2011, Addabbo fought to keep the mental health center and school open when it was threatened with eviction by Peninsula Hospital’s thennew owners. At that time, parents expressed worry about how their children would react to changes and spoke of how the program was needed here in the community. Now those worries have begun anew.

Last week this paper reported that Robert Fliegel, Addabbo’s new CEO, said the mental health program lost more than $300,000 from 2011-2012 and patient visits dropped by 2,000 over two years. He said closing the clinic would let Addabbo carry out its core mission and mental health was not part of it (more on that later).

While Fliegel says it is about money, Addabbo Board Member and former treasurer Sanford Bernstein said there are no monetary reasons to close down the mental health services. He said that “the center turned profits of $3.7 million in 2011 and $1.6 million in 2012 while funding these critical services and absorbing any losses.”

While he was unable to be at the vote on these closings, Bernstein said, “No input was taken or solicited from the patients. The Board is supposed to be acting to protect the interest of patients and it failed them.”

Addabbo, particularly its CEO, failed some of the most vulnerable in our community by taking away a vital service without ever including them in the decision.

Fliegel said ending mental health services would let the rest of Addabbo concentrate on its “core mission …to deliver four core services including internal medicine, family practice, OB/GYN and dental services.”

Mental health, which was previously listed as a specialization on Addabbo’s old website, was not rolled into the so-called four core services on the new site.

There are no specific services in their mission statement, and how this issue was handled goes against that statement which says: “We are committed to community satisfaction through services that are customer focused, high quality, accessible, convenient and cost-effective. Our services are provided with sensitivity to the social, multi-cultural, and economic needs of the New York City Community. We work individually and collectively, through education, innovation, and community partnership to anticipate and exceed the expectations of our patients, the community, and each other…. Our goal is to provide a wide range of family healthcare services that are of the highest quality and offered in a dignified manner. ‘The Art of Good Patient Care is in the Caring for the Patient.’”

Sensitivity, exceeding expectations, needs of the community? Addabbo has failed their mission of caring for the patient.

A mother of a special needs child from a different school said, “Can’t we have a community sponsorship? Here’s where charity begins at home.”

It’s not too late for Addabbo’s board to step up and change their minds. Maybe it’s time they went back and re-read their mission statement about caring for the patient and the needs of the community.

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