State gov’t did much to try and save St. John’s, Mary Immac hospitals

In the Sept. 10 TimesLedger Newspapers article “Weiner scores Paterson for Immac, St. John’s shutdowns,” U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) had it wrong in his description of the closure of St. John’s Hospital in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica. To say these hospitals closed because Gov. David Paterson failed to provide stimulus funding demonstrates that Weiner is not only unaware of the facts, but fails to appreciate the steps the Paterson administration took to try to save the hospitals.

Unfortunately, saving these hospitals with health care funding provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was never an option. Caritas Healthcare, the hospitals’ parent company, had already filed for bankruptcy by the time President Barack Obama signed the ARRA into law Feb. 17 and the hospitals closed later that month.

Even after the state provided more than $59 million in financial assistance and more than two years of intensive assistance, the hospitals made the decision to close. It was unlikely the hospitals would have survived even with the injection of federal funds.

Paterson has made the health of all New Yorkers one of the highest priorities of his administration. In order to address the immediate health care needs of communities affected by the closure of the Caritas hospitals, the state Health Department awarded $15.5 million to the hospitals and clinics in the affected neighborhoods. These funds covered the cost of emergency room expansions, immediate staffing needs and the opening of in-patient beds that could be accomplished within eight weeks following the closures.

After reviewing the impact of the initial investment and meeting with elected officials and community groups, the Health Department is making available an additional $30 million to meet the health care needs of Queens. This investment into expanding services at financially stable health care providers is a much better use of state and federal funds than attempting to prop up hospitals that had no viable plan for staying open.

Beginning in early 2007, when Caritas Healthcare first revealed to the department it was facing financial challenges, the Paterson administration remained in constant contact with the hospitals, working to find the root of the hospitals’ fiscal challenges and resolve them.

The department partnered with Caritas, assisting in the development of a reorganization plan, working with new management, helping develop a turn-around plan in conjunction with an outside consultant and working with Caritas in its months-long search for a partner organization to bring stability to the hospitals.

The best efforts of the hospitals and the state were unable to solve the facilities’ deep-rooted fiscal problems and more funding would not have made them viable.

Wendy E. Saunders

Deputy Secretary for Health, Medicaid and Oversight

Office of Gov. David Paterson

Albany, N.Y.

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