BY LUIS GRONDA
As the City and the Borough adjust to a new administration, a chief priority for the new Borough President involves Queens’ decimated healthcare services.
During her inaugural address last month, Borough President Melinda Katz said she would improve healthcare in Queens by expanding access to preventative care so that Borough residents can get the services they need.
Katz said she wants to build emergency rooms in areas that are underserved as a result of the multiple hospital closings the Borough has endured.
“You shouldn’t have to travel with your children when they’re sick at midnight and you can go right in your community to an emergency room,” the Borough President said.
She also hopes to open new hospitals in the Borough, and reopen ones that have been shut down.
“The healthcare emergency rooms are so crowded, and we’re losing hospitals every time we wake up,” Katz said.
Four hospitals in the Borough have closed down in the last five years, which has put a strain on the remaining health facilities. The most recent of those closings was Peninsula Hospital in 2012.
The drama involving Peninsula began in 2011, when the Dept. of Health ordered a partial shutdown of the facility after an inspection found more than 60 concerns within the hospital, including how it handled storing blood it took from patients. The hospital would never be fully operational again.
The facility filed for bankruptcy, and despite demands for it to reopen by local elected officials, including former U.S. Rep Bob Turner, the hospital would soon close for good. Its closing forced thousands of patients to move to another health facility and left many hospital workers without a job.
A report released by the Dept. of Health found that the hospital entered bankruptcy in 2011 after posting four straight years of operational losses. Peninsula was about $60 million in debt when it filed for bankruptcy. When Peninsula closed, it left Rockaway with only one hospital, St. John’s Episcopal, to serve the entire peninsula, and only two major health facilities to serve southern and central Queens, with the other being Jamaica Hospital, right off the Van Wyck Expressway in Jamaica.
St. John’s Episcopal in Rockaway has undergone troubles recently as well. It had to lay off a portion of its workers and outsource some medical facilities.
With the rising uncertainty of the hospital’s future, two elected officials, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park) and State Sen. James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park) have called for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to use a portion of the $1.2 billion in the proposed State capital funding to help hospitals throughout New York State on St John’s Hospital.
The Assemblyman introduced legislation to give the facility $4.3 million to cover its costs. Sanders also sponsored a similar Senate resolution.
“This funding will go a long way and allow St. John’s Hospital to continue to provide our communities in southern Queens and Rockaway the quality healthcare we deserve,” Goldfeder said. “We must ensure that St. John’s has the tools necessary to protect its current services and expand, in order to serve our community and keep our families healthy for many years to come.”
Elmhurst’s St. John’s Queens Hospital is another health facility that closed down recently. The Elmhurst location, which was on Queens Boulevard across from Queens Center Mall, closed in 2009 after Caritas Health Care filed for bankruptcy. They had reported about $64 million worth of debt before filing the motion.
The building that housed the hospital, and the parking lot adjacent to the area, were reportedly sold to a developer earlier this year and will be converted to residential apartments and retail stores.
During the Queens Tribune’s panel discussion on health care on Feb. 21, the panelists, which included State Sen. Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-Jamaica), discussed healthcare in the Borough.
Addabbo said the “big picture” of healthcare is concerning, given the recent closings the Borough has endured.
“I know when I walk into a senior center and talk with the seniors, just the mere mention of the future of healthcare, the fear in their eyes is certainly something you can read easily,” he said.
The Senator added that while the State is doing much better financially, including being able to put more funding toward healthcare, the future is not as bright as it can be. He added that as the State Senate begins the annual budget process in the next few months, they will push to keep what the Borough already has in terms of healthcare and seeing how it can be improved.
When asked about plans to bring new health facilities to the Borough, Addabbo said the focal point of the Senate seems to be to protect the hospitals that currently exist and improve on those as best they can. A trend is rising of opening up smaller health clinics to supplement the hospitals and that looks to continue.
“As we are on the cusp of the real negotiations of the State budget, we’re going to look to allocate as much money as we can to protect what we have,” he said.
In addition to the troubling situation of hospitals in the Borough, others have been pushing people to learn about and sign up for the Affordable Care Act.
Katz will host two informational sessions next month to tell Borough residents more about the Act and address their concerns. The deadline to sign up for the ACA is March 31.
“The Affordable Care Act has succeeded in putting quality and affordable health insurance within reach of the tens thousands of Queens residents and the millions of people nationwide who had previously been unable to obtain health care coverage,” Katz said.
The sessions will take place March 3 at the new Trump Pavilion at Jamaica Hospital Center in Richmond Hill and at Elmhurst Hospital Center on March 11. For information, call the Borough President’s office at (718) 286-3000.
Reach Luis Gronda at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @luisgronda.