Floating Hospital lands in Long Island City

By Philip Newman

“We decided that it was time for the Floating Hospital to come to land,” said Ken Berger, president and CEO of the Floating Hospital.

“What we plan will be neither floating nor a hospital,” he said.

“We want to establish ourselves as close to Queensbridge as possible,” Berger said, referring to the largest public housing development in North America. But the medical help will be offered to the entire community.

Berger and other leaders of his organization last Thursday held a community forum for Long Island City neighborhood activists, tenant leaders and regular citizens to explain their mission and hear what the area's citizens think of the prospect of the Floating Hospital moving in.

The reaction appeared to be overwhelmingly positive, even enthusiastic.

City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Woodside), whose district includes parts of Long Island City, said the choice by the Floating Hospital “will bring much-needed medical care” to Long Island City.

“When a child is sick, a child misses school,” Gioia said. “When a parent is sick, a parent misses work. When a community can't get health care, they miss opportunities.”

For many years, the Floating Hospital actually floated at Manhattan piers, but since the attack on the World Trade Center, piers have no longer been welcoming places for moorage.

The Floating Hospital is now mostly empty and at Pier 39 in Brooklyn. Berger said it may be donated as a New York City historical artifact.

Starting in the 1870s, the Floating Hospital visited poor areas of the city offering mostly free medical attention to those who otherwise would have had none.

Why did Berger's organization, which has temporary quarters in Downtown Manhattan, pick Long Island City?

“We wanted to settle in the most medically underserved community in New York,” Berger said. “We conducted a survey and found that part of New York was Long Island City.”

He explained that Long Island City has not only the enormous Queensbridge development but many other large public housing projects with a needy population.

Indeed, Rita Normandeau, vice president of the Queensbridge Tenants Association, said she must go to Elmhurst Hospital for her particular medical care needs.

“They chose the right place,” Normandeau said. “We have a lot of people and many with health problems.”

Community leaders who attended the forum told of a high incidence of asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes as well as social problems, including gang crime and teenage prostitution.

“First, we want to plan our building here in Long Island City and then we will determine a capital plan to pay for it,” Berger said.

“Our mission says we will provide health care and social services to underserved people,” Berger said. “It does not specify that we have to operate from a ship. In Long Island City, our mission will be unchanged.”

The Floating Hospital gets its operating money from Medicaid, grants, legacies and trusts and from people, corporations and foundations.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

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