Rally Highlights Troubles At St. John’s
Carrying signs that read “Enough Is Enough,” “We Need A First Class Hospital 4 The Rockaways,” and “The Rockaways Deserve Better,” hospital workers, 1199 union representatives, local politicians and others gathered between Beach 19th Street and Beach 20th Street on Brookhaven Avenue for what organizers called an “informational picket” on Wednesday, June 26th.
According to rally organizers the issues they wanted to spotlight at St. John’s were budget cuts, clinic closures, layoffs, the closing of the detox unit and the selling of the dialysis unit.
“This isn’t about money, it’s about people’s lives,” said Maureen, a self-described community activist who joined hundreds of vocal protesters outside of St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway. “We need expansion,” she said, “not closure.”
The 11 a.m. rally drew more than 150 people who marched, sang, and shouted slogans to draw attention to what they see as critical cuts at St. John’s, which they feel is dangerously diminishing the level of healthcare in the Rockaways.
Debbie Friedland, a Registered Nurse and 1199 SEIU health care workers union delegate said, “We’re very concerned about this peninsula. St. John’s is the last hospital standing. We don’t want to end up like Peninsula.
“When we went to Albany, they also had concerns about the management company.”
Friedland said that some at St. John’s had reached out to North Shore-LIJ in hopes to form a management agreement. Current management (Pitts Management) rejected this course.
Organizers state “Pitts Management is a consultant firm from Louisiana that had been hired by St. John’s Episcopal Hospital’s Board of Trustees in 2010 to run the hospital.”
After reeling off the names of several hospitals which have successfully partnered with North Shore-LIJ Healthcare Systems, Friedland stated Pitts Management was instead going with the Episcopal Diocesan health care system. She then offered a list of hospitals which she stated were under that system. All are now closed.
“This is not against the Episcopal Diocese,” she said, “it’s about doing what’s best.”
Protestors, who attracted interested attention from passersby, hospital visitors and residents on the block, openly called for dumping Pitts.
“We want this management company out. Pitts has got to go,” said Tamaree, RN, who also asked that her last name not be used.
Contacted for comment on the protestors’ points, St. John’s issued a statement via its Public Affairs office.
“Episcopal Health Services shares 1199’s apprehension about…safety net hospitals… particularly in the Rockaways. EHS is committed to making necessary changes to keep St. John’s the principal provider of quality healthcare in the Rockaways. Among the changes they detailed were “relocation of primary care and specialty care clinics, to make “space for long overdue expansion of the Emergency Department.”
However, the same statement hospital officials did acknowledge cuts. “Certain services that have required substantial subsidy in the past will not be provided by EHS when comparable care and services can be obtained nearby.” On the closure of the Chemical Dependency or detox unit, for instance, the hospital stated, “Detoxification services will continue to be provided on existing inpatient units,” which the hospital calls an “alternate care model,” and that it “will be accompanied by coordinated ambulatory care options.”
The sale of their two adult care facilities, Bishop Maclean and Bishop Hucles Episcopal Nursing Homes, as well as changes in staff, departments and other services is also currently underway.
As far as employees’ jobs, St. John’s would only say they “are committed…to retaining and retraining staff wherever possible.”
Out on the sidewalk, during the demonstration protestors loudly chanted, “They’ve got to be nuts! They’re making health care cuts!”