By Anna Gustafson
Queens hospitals need financial support from the state and federal governments as well as insurers to continue to care for a borough rocked by the closures of Mary Immaculate and St. John’s hospitals that left emergency rooms hemorrhaging money, panelists said at a Queens Civic Congress health-care forum this week.
As the two-year anniversary of the closing of Mary Immaculate in Jamaica and St. John’s in Elmhurst nears, health-care officials who spoke at Monday’s discussion said there must be a focus on the future of health care in the borough, which is home to at least 336,000 people without health insurance, according to the borough president’s office, and in a state that is facing a $9 billion deficit.
Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo has said he will seriously consider cuts to health care in order to narrow that budget gap, which could mean fewer resources coming into area hospitals. Queens hospitals could lose hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade because the new national health-care reform does not cover undocumented immigrants, panelists said.
“We’re coming up on two years after the closures, and the question is what happens now?” said MediSys Health Network Chief Executive David Rosen, one of four panelists who spoke at the Queens Civic Congress event at 80-02 Kew Gardens Road. “We ask that question at a time when resources are drying up faster than we can count. Queens is under-bedded, but the issue is much more dramatic than that. It’s not that we can’t find beds for people, it’s that we have other facilities — operating rooms, CAT scans — that get overtaxed by substantial increases in volume.”
Rosen said he wants to see commercial insurers “pick up more of the tab,” of health-care costs and said state and federal governments need to look at the way they fund hospitals. He noted that Jamaica Hospital, which along with Flushing Hospital is run by MediSys, could lose about $130 million over the next 10 years because the new federal health-care law does not provide insurance for undocumented immigrants, many of whom live in Queens.
“We need to get paid for what we do,” said Rosen, who added Jamaica’s emergency room lost $30 million in 2009, in part because of an influx of former patients from Mary Immaculate.
Alongside Rosen, panelists at Tuesday’s event included Bill Cunningham, vice president of government and community affairs for North Shore-LIJ; Paola Miceli, director of Health and Human Services in the borough president’s office; and state Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan), a leading advocate for health-care reform in New York and nationally. Kevin Forrestal, chairman of the Health Committee for the Queens Civic Congress, moderated the event.
Cunningham said he believed much of the future of the borough’s health care depends on the creation of urgent care centers, like the one North Shore-LIJ opened last month in Rego Park, which handles residents’ non-emergency needs.
“The sudden closings of the hospitals is tragic,” Cunningham said of Mary Immaculate and St. John’s, which closed in March 2009 after their parent company, Caritas, announced it was $100 million in debt. “I don’t know why health care can’t be more like the [Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.]. A bank closes and the FDIC negotiates its assets acquisition with another bank. We should go through transitions with hospitals, not sudden closures.”
Miceli said the loss of emergency room capacity since St. John’s and Mary Immaculate as well as Parkway Hospital and St. Joseph’s folded has “really taken its toll” on Queens, where there are about 381,000 people aged 60 or older, who Miceli noted often need more hospital care. Forrestal also pointed out that southeast Queens has 48 primary care centers per 100,000 people — far fewer than the 132 primary care centers per 100,000 people in Flushing or the citywide average of 118 centers.
“We were in a crisis already when the hospitals closed, and that crisis has become worse at a time when there are less resources,” Miceli said.
Gottfried said he did not agree with Cuomo’s plan to carve funding from health care in the state and noted that Medicaid is how New York pays for 80 percent of its nursing homes and a chunk of home health-care services for the disabled and elderly, among a variety of other items.
“Virtually every problem we face in health care is made worse and harder to solve by the fact that so many New Yorkers and Americans don’t have health coverage and that so much of our coverage is held accountable to corporate stockholders,” he said.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.