Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Closed Hospitals Lead to Influx of Patients at Others by John Lauinger - NY Daily News

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Emergency room doctors at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center used to notice that patient volume followed a pattern each week - starting with a big uptick on Mondays and Tuesdays.

"And then it would sort of correct itself during the course of the week," said Dr. Geoffrey Doughlin, the hospital's chairman of emergency medicine.

But ever since two neighboring hospitals - Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica and St. John's Queens in Elmhurst - filed for bankruptcy in early February, that pattern has been thrown out of whack.

"The problem is that, in the last couple of weeks, it's not really correcting during the course of the week," Doughlin said.

As Queens residents began seeking new health care options as the bankrupt hospitals prepared to shut down, volume at Jamaica Hospital's ER began "trending upward in a very significant fashion," Doughlin said.

And things may get worse. Mary Immaculate and St. John's Queens were closed Sunday as part of the bankruptcy plan for embattled hospital operator Caritas Health Care.

Mary Immaculate used to have a trauma center. That means Jamaica Hospital, which also has a trauma center, will be forced to pick up much of the slack.

In early January, before the Caritas bankruptcy, Jamaica Hospital's ER averaged no more than about 350 patients a day, but now the number is approaching 400, Doughlin said.

"There is never a minute to relax. There is no down time," he said. "The problem is that everything gets stressed a little bit more. You have to work faster and still try to give every patient the right kind of care, not make mistakes. It stresses every part of the system."

In an attempt to compensate for the 400 beds lost at the Caritas hospitals, the state Health Department recently spread $14.3 million between seven neighboring hospitals to pay for upgrades to inpatient and ER capacity.

Jamaica Hospital and its affiliate, Flushing Hospital Medical Center, got $4.5 million. The former is expanding its ER, adding four intensive care beds and 40 inpatient beds. Flushing Hospital will add 21 inpatient beds.

North Shore-LIJ Health System got $3.5 million for upgrades at Forest Hills Hospital and Franklin Hospital in Valley Stream. At the Forest Hills ER, which has seen patient volume increase by about 50 patients a day, space will be added to treat an additional 12,800 patients annually, said spokesman Terry Lynam.

Both Forest Hills and Jamaica Hospitals are hiring staff to cope with the influx of new patients, but the state aid covers only capital costs to increase capacity, Jamaica Hospital spokesman Ole Pedersen said.