2013-07-12 / Columnists

Eye On Rockaway

More Hospital Turmoil?
By Miriam Rosenberg

Here we go again – informational picketing, layoffs, and the failure to pay into the union medical plan. Last week The Wave reported on a rally held by St. John’s Episcopal Hospital staff concerning budget cuts, clinic closures, layoffs, the closing of the detox unit and the selling of the dialysis unit. Now more information has come to light that can only lead to the question, “What is going on at Rockaway’s only hospital?”

“They can’t recoup the money they laid out during Sandy,” said one source.

According to a press release from SJEH last November, the hospital saw a 40 percent increase in inpatient volume and Emergency Department patient volume following Superstorm Sandy. Many were evacuees from neighboring nursing homes and adult homes. For many, the hospital acted as a shelter. But, it put the hospital in a $3 million hole for which it had to set up two funds to collect donations to help it climb out of.

Word is that the lab at the hospital has been sold to an outside firm and the dialysis unit is on the block. The hospital is selling Bishop Charles Waldo McLean in Far Rockaway and Bishop Henry B. Hucles in Brooklyn to Michael Melnicke, who bought Peninsula Hospital Center.

According to an article in the Long Island Herald, pediatrics and family practice is being re-located to the Joseph Addabbo Family Health Centers in Far Rockaway and Arverne. It also reports that SJEH would be opening two off-site ambulatory care offices, one at 275 Rockaway Turnpike and another in Belle Harbor.

All this is while the hospital expands its emergency room using $4.3 million of a $5.3 million grant from the state.

Peninsula Hospital closed on April 9th, 2012 and was sold in October. There was a 35 percent increase in patients using the ER right after PHC closed. That number is now 30 percent, which is still a high number.

Ever since Peninsula closed, St. John’s has been overwhelmed with patients. This reporter has seen, at times, its ER having two triages going – the official one in the ER lobby and another just inside the ER itself. There is also talk of the hospital not paying the union medical fund.

What does all this mean? On the surface it looks like the only hospital in Rockaway will be sending many of its patients elsewhere.

Many who need ambulatory services on the east end, especially in Arverne, will now have to take two buses to Rockaway Turnpike or go to Belle Harbor.

But what it really means is that St. John’s will no longer be a full service hospital. Yes, it can say “we have facilities here or there,” but not in one hospital setting.

CEO Nelson Toebbe said the plan for expanding the ER “is ambitious and far reaching.” But it shouldn’t be so ambitious that it makes it difficult for those who rely on the hospital to use its services.

In April, reliable sources told The Wave that St. John’s Episcopal Hospital was in discussions “possibly, to use parts of Peninsula Hospital.” Now that St. John’s has a relationship with the owner of Peninsula by selling him the nursing homes, what is the next step? Why move anything off the peninsula when there is a viable place right here? Why not just work to reopen PHC?

In the meantime, are we about to go through the same process as when Peninsula Hospital was on the brink of closing? Democratic District leader and City Council candidate Lew Simon is afraid of just that. He, like union members at last week’s rally, pointed to the consulting firm of Pitts Management – which manages the hospital.

“I am very, very concerned about the mismanagement at St. John’s Hospital, and I am wondering if we are starting to see the writing on the wall of another hospital closing in Rockaway,” said Simon.

Not just another hospital, but the only one we have left. Stay tuned, this is not going away anytime soon.

(As The Wave went to press it was announced that CEO Nelson Toebbe was resigning and being replaced by current Chief Operating Officer Rick Brown).

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