Tuesday, February 24, 2009

$18M Won't Save Doomed Hospitals by Ben Hogwood - Queens Chronicle

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(photos by Michael O’Kane)

The state will hand out $18 million for Queens health-care — but two hospitals begging for money won’t see a penny of it.

The state announced on Tuesday that it will provide $14.5 million to expand capacity at eight borough health-care facilities to offset the closure of St. John’s Queens Hospital in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica. The facilities are set to close permanently on Feb. 27.

It will also make up to $3 million available to help retrain, counsel and find jobs for employees being displaced.

The announcement dashed the hopes of some workers, who have been hitting the pavement and going to civic meetings this past week in an attempt to convince anyone they can that the hospitals are worth saving.

St. John’s nurse Kim Zambrotta has been a leading figure in the effort to save the hospitals. Now, she said the process is too far along to stop it.

Zambrotta believes the state could have funneled some of the $18 million to the hospitals to keep them open, at least long enough for the state to receive its share of the $787 billion economic recovery package that recently passed in Congress.

“They could have trickled that money back to us,” she said. “They could have put a little band-aid on our hemorrhage.”

Zambrotta was returning with a bus full of other hospital employees that traveled to Gov. David Paterson’s Manhattan office on Wednesday for a peaceful protest. No one from the governor’s office came down to speak with the workers. Instead, the police read them their rights and they soon disbursed.
Police made no arrests.

The two hospitals are operated by Caritas Health Care, a subsidiary of Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn. Caritas filed bankruptcy and closure plans in early February, but the closing process went into high gear Saturday morning when all admissions were terminated.

In an attempt to prevent that from happening, workers, community leaders and supporters rallied outside St. John’s, begging, pleading and even attempting to shame Paterson into keeping the hospitals open just a little longer.

“We need help from the governor and we need it immediately,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). “Lives are in danger.”

It didn’t work. On Tuesday, the front doors were locked; visitors and workers had to use a side door for entrance.

The hospitals have also laid off a large number of their staff. Carlos Quiles, a nurse at St. John’s, was one of those contacted over the weekend and told not to show up to work anymore. “We weren’t even allowed to come in and clear out our lockers,” Quiles said.

Some don’t see how the borough could handle the shutdown. Keith Chiu, a Caritas paramedic, said the situation wasn’t dire over the weekend because people were out of town due to a federal holiday. Still, it was bad enough. “I worked this weekend and it was crazy around the hospital,” Chiu said, expecting it only to get worse.

But State Health Commissioner Richard Daines said in a prepared release that the $18 million in grants will go a long way to preparing the borough for the fallout.

“These grants will help other health-care facilities in the area expand their capacity to absorb the patients previously handled by these two Caritas hospitals and assist workers in finding new employment,” Daines stated.

The money is broken down as follows:

  • — $3.6 million to Health and Hospitals Corporation of New York City to expand inpatient capacity and emergency room services at its Elmhurst and Queens hospital centers.
  • — $4.5 million to Medisys to expand inpatient capacity and emergency room services at its Jamaica and Flushing sites.
  • — $3.5 million to North Shore LIJ to expand inpatient capacity and emergency room services at its Forest Hills and Valley Stream sites.
  • — $2.7 million to Wyckoff Medical Center to expand inpatient and emergency room services.
  • — $650,000 to the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Centers to maintain primary and preventative services at the St. Dominic’s Health Care Center.