The Floating Hospital celebrates 150th anniversary next week

By Bill Parry

The Floating Hospital, one of the last remaining private charity hospitals remaining in the city, marks its 150th anniversary Tuesday. The Long Island City-based non-profit organization is the largest provider of preventive medical, dental and mental health care to New York City’s homeless families, with a mission to provide health care for all, regardless of the patient’s insurance, legal status or their ability to pay.

Now land-based, the organization operated a succession of vessels which frequently cruised New York Harbor and nearby waterways, giving indigent children and their caregivers a break from overcrowded tenements. While aboard, the Floating Hospital’s staff of pediatricians, dentists, nurses and social workers provided health care services, while other staff members would instruct caregivers in good child-rearing practices.

More than 5 million people have been served by The Floating Hospital from its beginning as a charity hospital ship. Its clinic at 41-43 Crescent St. and several satellite clinics serve homeless families and domestic violence victims. A new clinic, open to the community, is set to begin operation later this month at Reality Houses in Astoria.

“Founded in 1866, The Floating Hospital has spent the past 150 years providing health care services to New York City’s neediest families,” The Floating Hospital President and General Counsel Sean Granahan said. “In place of its iconic ship, which last served New York on Sept. 11, it now operates a fleet of vans to transport families to and from over 200 homeless shelters and domestic violence safe houses throughout the five boroughs free of charge.”

The vessel’s last regular home was Pier 11 near Wall Street, but after the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center, it was moved to Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport until it had to make way for ferry service. The Floating Hospital’s board rejected other piers offered by the city because they were too close to Sanitation Department piers, where garbage was transferred, and the decision was made to come ashore for good.

The Floating Hospital settled in Long Island City just down the street from the Queensbridge Houses, the nation’s largest public housing project. Shuttle buses operate to the Ravenswood and Astoria Houses as well.

“Urban Upbound has been honored to partner with The Floating Hospital to break cycles of poverty among the neediest New Yorkers, while creating affordable and oftentimes free access to health and wellness,” Urban Upbound founder Bishop Mitchell Taylor said. “The Floating Hospital gives families and individuals who suffer from a myriad of unfortunate experiences a chance to feel safe, gain access to health care and also hope for the future.”

This year alone The Floating Hospital will serve 23 percent of the city’s homeless children and 35 percent of homeless adults in safe, family-care environments.

“Since it moved to my district in 2006, I have witnessed the amazing service The Floating Hospital’s staff provides to vulnerable children and families,” U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) said. “I have enjoyed watching it grow and thrive as it expands services and clinics to deliver comprehensive health care. Over the years, The Floating Hospital has become a beloved community provider that offers compassionate, high-quality health care, and I wish them many more years of success.”

It almost went out of business just over a decade ago.

In 2005, the hospital’s board asked Granahan to close the storied organization due to the increasing difficulties and losses involved in operating a true charity hospital. He asked for a chance to turn it around and now its 25 percent charity care, or free care to the uninsured, is among the highest in the health care industry.

“Each day The Floating Hospital remains open is another day that changes the course of someone’s life for the better,” Granahan said.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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