2014-06-20 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

A Brighter Day for St. John’s
By Steve Kramer, Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU

In August 2013, a healthcare crisis loomed in the Rockaways, a community already devastated by Hurricane Sandy. St. John’s Episcopal, our only local hospital, was on the brink of disaster after years of poor management. The hospital’s administration was threatening caregiver lay-offs, closing their dialysis unit and other cuts that could severely hurt patient care.

Nearly a year later, the hospital has a number of upgrades and expansions in progress due to the hard work of the community members, faith-based organizations, elected officials, caregivers, nurses and doctors who have formed The Rockaway Coalition to Make St. John’s a First Class Hospital. CEO Rick Brown and Bishop Provenzano have agreed to engage in a dialogue with the community.

Our coalition’s goal is to make major improvements in St. John’s. Since last August, we have already had a number of successes. We worked with the Department of Health and the St. John’s Administration to secure a HEAL-NY grant of $5.4 million. With this grant, the hospital has begun to expand and renovate its emergency department.

Coalition members fought long and hard for the $8 billion Federal Medicaid Waiver grant; funds that are intended for safety net hospitals like St. John’s. These funds will help the hospital transition to services that are in line with the Affordable Care Act, and will allow it to retain a skilled workforce so that we can see improvements in patient care. This grant will also help improve coordination between inpatient and communitybased services.

We are supporting a quick merger between Catholic Health Services and St. John’s so the hospital can add a Cardiac Catheterization laboratory and other essential medical services needed in the Rockaways. We look forward to working with the administration in the planning and implementation process to ensure that the community’s needs and patient care comes first, and that the hospital’s workers and their unions are respected.

Our coalition was also successful in saving St. John’s dialysis unit, which the hospital’s former CEO said was costing the hospital too much money. By saying this, he ignored the fact that this community desperately needs it. Many Rockaway residents suffer from diabetes, hypertension and renal disease, all of which can lead to the need for dialysis services. Now, instead of talking about closing the unit, the administration is considering expanding it.

On March 13, 2014 we held a community meeting, at which Bishop Lawrence Provenzano and CEO Brown responded to some of the concerns of those in attendance. The next community forum will be held this June or July (details to follow). These forums will help everyone in the Rockaways have a voice in developments at our hospital.

In spite of all of these successes, we are not slowing down. We will continue to push the SJEH administration to focus on better patient care, and to be transparent about what is happening in the hospital. The Rockaway community, which has already been through so much, needs and deserves a first-rate hospital.

We’d like to offer special thanks to Senator James Sanders and his staff; his council, Steve Behar; Senator Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. and his staff. We’d also like to thank Dr. Edward Williams of NAACP; Marilyn Beckford and Adeline Hylton of Faith in NY; The St. John’s caregivers and delegates; and the officers and staff of 1199SEIU. Thank you also to the Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and her staff; Councilman Donovan Richards and staff; The Health Education Project; Councilman Eric Ulrich and staff; and Democratic Party Leader Lew Simon and staff. There has also been support from Mayor Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James, Assemblywoman Michele Titus and staff; Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder and staff; and Congressman Gregory Meeks and staff.

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