By Rich Bockmann
Borough President Helen Marshall said there is a health-care crisis on the Rockaway peninsula, one she narrowly avoided being a part of herself.
After Peninsula Hospital management announced plans to close the Far Rockaway facility, Marshall embarked on a tour of nearby St. John’s Episcopal Hospital Tuesday to make sure it could sustain the influx of new patients.
En route from St. John’s to Peninsula, at 51-15 Beach Channel Drive, the car carrying the borough president and members of her staff was struck from behind by an NBC news van while waiting at a stoplight, a representative from her office said.
“It was just a little fender-bender. Everybody’s fine,” said Chief of Staff Alexandra Rosa. “She’s fine. Her main concern is that she said there is indeed a medical health-care crisis on the Rockaway peninsula.”
Marshall released a statement Monday expressing her concern upon hearing reports that St. John’s, the sole hospital soon to be responsible for the care of more than 100,000 residents on the peninsula, was turning patients away.
Peninsula filed for bankruptcy protection last year when it was faced with $13 million in debt. A judge in the case appointed bankruptcy trustee Lori Lapin Jones, who eventually made the call to pull the plug.
Last month the state Department of Health ordered the hospital to stop admitting patients after inspectors noted 66 “serious deficiencies” in the administration and operation of the clinical lab.
“The trustee gave a preview of the plan of correction and we told them it would take substantial work and substantial time — a period of several weeks, perhaps months,” DOH spokesman Michael Moran said.
Jones could not be reached and Peninsula representatives declined to comment.
Moran said the DOH was expecting Peninsula to submit a closure plan and would work to ensure medical records are available to patients and are transferred to appropriate providers at their request.
“The department will monitor operations at Peninsula to ensure an orderly closure,” he added. “The department will work with other providers to make sure patients have access to services that will be closing.”
Hospital employees said Peninsula was expected to shut its doors Friday in a move that would cost about 1,000 people their jobs. Health care workers union 1199/SEIU said it was disappointed with the outcome, especially since employees had worked so hard to keep the hospital open.
“This is an incredibly sad day for our workers, whose sole priority was saving Peninsula so it could continue its vital services to the Rockaway community,” the union said.
The entire borough of Queens has had to deal with hospital closures in the last few years. Since 2007, four hospitals in the borough have closed: St. Joseph’s Hospital in Flushing, Parkway Hospital in Forest Hills, Mary Immaculate in Jamaica and St. John’s Queens Hospital in Elmhurst.
North Shore-LIJ Health System, which operates hospitals in Forest Hills and New Hyde Park, released a statement saying it could help pick up some of the slack.
“As the region’s largest health care provider, North Shore-LIJ has been serving the very same communities served by Peninsula for many years,” it read. “As we did following the closure of St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals in Queens, we’re prepared to help in any way we can.”
State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) said he spoke with the commissioner of the DOH, and the two would be working together to ensure health care options would exist for the affected communities.
“I don’t know what that would be, but we believe we can sit down with a group of shareholders and create a brain trust that can provide options,” he said. “We are 100 percent committed to providing something as a substitute.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.