St. Mary’s cuts ribbon on ‘bridge to the future’ as workers rally for benefits

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Officials at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children and its supporters celebrated a future of achieved miracles and fulfilled dreams during a highly attended grand opening of its new patient pavilion.

“This new pavilion is our bridge to the future,” said Stephen Brent Wells, chair of the hospital’s board of directors. “It is the means for our children to achieve the impossible, and it will advance our mission of making dreams and miracles possible.”

The first phase of the $114 million project to expand St. Mary’s features a 97-bed home-like rehabilitation space with wireless technology and a Nintendo Wii room for cognitive therapy, an interactive zone for patient and staff interaction, family suites for overnight stays, outdoor space and surrounding healing gardens, enhanced education and classrooms and 58 new parking spaces.

St. Mary’s, the city’s only pediatric post-acute care facility, serves 4,000 critically ill and injured children, throughout the metropolitan area, who are all battling complex and life-threatening medical conditions, officials said.

Hundreds of pavilion supporters — including elected officials and Fox 5 “Good Day New York” co-host Rosanna Scotto, who moderated the event — joined St. Mary’s 97 young patients during a ribbon cutting at the hospital’s home base, at 29-01 216th Street in Bayside, on Thursday, September 27.

“Just seeing the kids doing so much better — and they will be doing much better once they get into the new hospital — it was just beautiful. It could make you cry,” said Vincent Riso, who has been on the hospital’s board of directors for over a decade. “The work that I and other people do for St. Mary’s, we get so much more out of it than St. Mary’s does. It’s something that comes right out of your heart.”

Leah Weinberg — whose brother, Zev, is a St. Mary’s patient — said she sees the hospital as a place that heals the body and caters to the soul.

“The St. Mary’s staff makes each patient feel like a valued human being,” said Weinberg, 26. “It is a place where all children can feel accepted and where their strengths can be cultivated, focusing on what they can do rather than focusing on what they cannot do.”

Construction on the 90,000-square-foot pavilion began roughly two years ago. Project funds were largely secured through philanthropic donations. Officials said they have almost reached $35 million in support.

“The work of St. Mary’s is all about creating unlimited possibilities for children on whom medical conditions and society have imposed or found limitations,” Wells said. “We empower them to achieve beyond our limits. We expose them to the world, we let their spirits soar and then we stand back and marvel at all they’ve accomplished.”

But the mood was more subdued directly outside the facility, where the hospital’s 1199SEIU unionized workers rallied in the shadows of the colossal expansion.

“Anything that helps serve these children and give them better care, we’re in favor of,” said 1199SEIU Vice President Mark Bergen. “At the same point though, there are other things besides the bricks. There are people here that also need to be listened to.”

Donning deep purple and gold, union workers picketed for contracts with better health care, pensions, job security and access to training.

According to Bergen, 320 employees of St. Mary’s — including 90 registered nurses and 230 licensed practicing nurses, service and maintenance workers — voted overwhelmingly last September to join the union, which has since filed three separate unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against hospital administration, he said.

“Management has been completely stonewalling bargaining,” Bergen said. “We firmly believe they need to give voice to the workers on quality care issues.”

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