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If only one thing could be taken away from the St. John’s Episcopal Hospital forum on March 13, it’s that “St. John’s is not closing.”
The phrase was repeated numerous times by leaders of the hospital during the meet-and-greet event, which featured hospital chair Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, CEO Richard Brown, a representative from the State Department of Health, and Steve Kramer, executive vice president of the hospital’s employees’ union, 1199 SEIU.
State Senator James Sanders put the forum together to allow residents a face-to-face conference with the leaders to answer the community’s concerns about the future of the hospital.
Instead of closing, everyone in the room was focused on how the hospital and health care in the Rockaways would expand.
“My job is to make sure that nobody deviates from the path,” Sanders said. “The bottom line is we are going to save this hospital and we are heading north.”
Brown announced updates on the expansion of the hospital’s emergency department.
The project will cost an estimated $9 – $10 million, and double the size of the emergency department. The construction will be carried out in three phases over nearly two years. The expansion is lengthy because the emergency department will continue to stay open during construction.
Residents, who have complained the department is too small, hope the expansion could happen sooner.
“Yes, it’s terrible,” said Rockaway resident Anita Hunter, who was born in the hospital and whose sister currently works there. “You can barely walk in there. There are so many people lined up outside the examination room.”
Residents also used the forum to hasten the possible merger between the hospital and Catholic Health Services of Long Island, which would allow St. John’s to expand its services and resources.
Brown said the merger was still in the discussion phase. He said metaphorically that St. John’s is “dating” the Long Island organization, but not yet “married” to them.
“What we in this room are looking for is to see St. John’s be a first class hospital,” Kramer said. “We ask you, Bishop and CEO Brown, to make moves as quickly as possible to expedite the merger.”
Perhaps the most exciting statement made at the meeting, though, was Sanders declaring he would like to see the shuttered Peninsula Hospital used as an additional emergency department. The room was immediately filled with cheers.
“I didn’t take this job to lose,” Sanders said. “I didn’t come on to be in charge of the dismantling of health care in the Rockaways. I believe in this place and I believe we can do better.”