2013-08-16 / Top Stories

St. John’s Rally – Worries Grow About Hospital

By Miriam Rosenberg

Feeling like it is deja’ vu all over again health care workers, union heads, political representatives and locals marched through the streets of Far Rockaway in an effort save the only hospital on the peninsula.

Store owners and residents watched as several hundred members of SEIU 1199 rallied in the Thriftway parking lot and then marched to and around St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in an effort to make the public aware of the problems at the facility. The group gradually got bigger as locals showed their support by joining the marchers.

The 257 bed facility has begun closing units and outsourcing clinics – a sign many believe is the first step in closing the more than 100 year-old hospital. “This hospital saved my life three times. Peninsula Hospital saved it one time,” Dr. Ed Williams of the local NAACP said. He added, “If we lose this institution we won’t have to worry about them building houses, we need to start worrying about them building cemeteries.”

Councilman Donovan Richards said, “It’s been too long that Rockaway’s been shortchanged…But today we say no more. St. John’s get your act right or we’re coming for you.”

District Leader Lew Simon, a candidate for the council seat for 32nd district said, “It’s very sad that we did this in 1999 with the bankruptcy and St. John’s Hospital. We fought to keep Peninsula Hospital open for eight months and now they got the nerve to attempt to close St. John’s. What is wrong with this picture? It’s a damn shame that I heard they let 15 people off already.”

State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. said there is current trend to close hospitals. “It has to stop now. The trend should be if you want to expand health care go out and find a partner who wants to help you find better health care, help the community, help the workers and keep our hospitals open.”

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said, “If there is any part of the city where there should be a no hospital closure zone it is this part of the city. Not that we want to lose any hospital but look at what Sandy did here. Think of how isolated this part of the city can be.”

Quinn, a candidate for mayor, pledged the full support of the city council and said the council would be contacting Governor Andrew Cuomo and State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver about St. John’s. She also said that legislation would be introduced that a hospital cannot be closed without first getting approval from the city council.

Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, also a mayoral candidate, said “Rockaway has borne the brunt long before Sandy. There is one hospital left. It’s time to strengthen that hospital and make it strong for the future.”

Speaking for the young people of the community Milan Taylor, the president and founder of the Rockaway Youth Task Force, said “Very often the residents of this community wait for others to fight for us. It is time for us to fight for ourselves.”

Borough President Helen Marshall added, “What we’re concerned about is who’s running it and how they’re running it. We’re looking to match up with a hospital that can help this hospital.”

It is reported that the new interim CEO of the hospital Richard Brown said that they are exploring options to merge with another health facility.

To that end, The Wave has obtained a copy of a letter written to Steven Kramer, executive vice president and division director of Systems Three, of SEIU 1199. The executive vice president and CEO of North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System, Mark J. Solazzo, indicates their “interest in exploring if the Health System can propose a beneficial relationship with St. John’s Episcopal Hospital.”

In the August 8th correspondence Solazzo goes on to say, “In order to understand if we can be helpful, we would need to be invited by the leadership of the hospital to tour the facility and to discuss their perspective on the operations and resources needed to serve the community.”

So far the management company for the hospital, Pitts Management, has turned down any idea of merging with North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System.

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