$114M modernization at St. Mary’s

Every hallway in the St. Mary’s Hospital for Children in Bayside is lined with wheelchairs, adapted strollers, adapted chairs for the classroom and standing devices because of one simple reality: there is nowhere else to put them.

After years of false steps and recent litigation from an upset civic group, ground will finally be broken at St. Mary’s toward a new $114 million healthcare facility intended to increase inpatient quality of life and bring modern amenities to a building in need of a facelift.

“To say that any healthcare facility built in the 1950s is obsolete is to grossly understate the case,” said Jeffrey Frerichs, President and Chief Executive Officer of St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children. “The hospital has always been aggressive in introducing the newest and best therapies, but when the building simply outlives the capabilities to support those enhancements, you wind up doing everything cramped. It becomes difficult for the staff to do the best kind of job.”

Current plans do not include increasing the 97 inpatient beds, bassinets or cribs at St. Mary’s, but to build a 21st century facility that will contribute to healing and rehabilitation for children severely affected by brain injuries and illnesses caused at birth due to pre-maturity or childhood accidents. The staff at St. Mary’s cares for infants through teenagers with on-site schooling at P.S. 23Q but admits it’s become increasingly difficult due to cramped conditions.

“We have tons of equipment and fun stuff, but the thing we are lacking the most is space,” said Ian MacManus, Clinical Manager of Occupational Therapy. “From a rehabilitation standpoint, more space to get kids walking and playing means more opportunities for healing.”

Included in the plans is to build a rehabilitation wing, a new nursery and suites for parents who wish to stay over-night with their children. Children will also receive smaller, more private rooms as opposed to current conditions where one may find five to six children in close quarters.

“It’s very hard to see some of the children and not immediately feel that whatever our people are doing for them is an example of what’s best about the human spirit,” said Frerichs. “We have a moral commitment to them and a responsibility to make sure that we do what they can’t do for themselves.”

In an effort to stop construction at St. Mary’s, the Weeks Woodland Association (WWA) – a newly formed civic group – recently filed a lawsuit suggesting that neighbors of the facility would reportedly be subject to excessive noise, truck traffic, dust and other forms of pollution. The group’s web site asks Bayside residents to call, email and write Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to declare St. Mary’s Certificate of Need cancelled, withdrawn and annulled. The WWA did not make themselves available for comment.

Other members of the neighborhood have no problem with the construction. Dana Friedman – an attorney who lives three blocks away from St. Mary’s – said that dealing with traffic issues and noise is “no big deal.”

“The building is extraordinarily cramped,” said Friedman, who plays Santa Claus annually at the St. Mary’s Christmas party. “If it benefits the kids and it doesn’t adversely affect me, I have no problem with it.”

“Our kids should live and exist in the equivalent of a medically obsolete building? Why are they better than our kids? It’s an expression of profound disrespect and a lack of caring on the part of these people,” said Frerichs.

The groundbreaking at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children will take place on October 6 with construction expected to finish in 2012. Needless to say, the staff at St. Mary’s is happy construction is about to begin.

“I’m very excited. I just want what’s best for our children,” said a teacher at P.S. 23Q.