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First comprehensive women’s health center opens in the Rockaways

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Council member Joann Arioala, guest, Council member Selvena Brooks-Powers, QBP Donovan Richards, Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, Margaret O. Carpenter, EHS CEO Gerard Walsh, and Rosemary Bonilla attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Margaret O. Carpenter Women’s Health Center in Far Rockaway on March 31, 2022. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

On the last day of Women’s History Month, Episcopal Health Services (EHS) — the parent organization of St. John’s Medical Group and St. John’s Episcopal Hospital — hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony in honor of the opening of the Margaret O. Carpenter Women’s Health Center at 105-38 Rockaway Beach Blvd., in Rockaway Park, on March 31, 2022.

The center is named as a tribute to Margaret O. Carpenter, a former member of the Episcopal Health Services Inc. board of trustees and a longtime volunteer. The facility is the first (and long overdue) comprehensive women’s health center on the Rockaway Peninsula.

The health center will address the long-standing health disparities on the peninsula as St. John’s Episcopal Hospital is the only hospital on the Rockaways serving more than 130,000 residents.

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EHS CEO Gerald Walsh (r) presents Margaret O. Carpenter (l) with a proclamation at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Margaret O. Carpenter Women’s Health Center in Far Rockaway on March 31, 2022. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Breast cancer is the top three leading causes of premature death in the Rockaways, where the death rate for cancer is higher than the overall cancer death rate in New York City. Prenatal care rates are lower than the overall rates in New York City. Pregnant women on the peninsula seek no prenatal care or seek care late into their pregnancies.

The lack of efficient public transportation and geographical isolation makes it difficult for women to seek medical care outside the Rockaways, forcing them to travel more than an hour for lifesaving medical care. Women in the Rockaways all too often forgo critical care because it is too time-consuming or too expensive to travel to a healthcare facility.

With the opening of the Margaret O. Carpenter Women’s Health Center, women on the peninsula now can receive a variety of medical services in one location, including obstetrics, gynecology, maternal-fetal medicine, urogynecology, gynecology oncology, breast surgery, nutrition, behavioral health, 3D mammography, bone density and ultrasound.

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One of the two 3D mammography machines at the Margaret O. Carpenter Women’s Health Center includes a biopsy machine. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Besides five exam rooms, the space also features top-of-the-line medical equipment, including a 3D mammography machine that allows clinicians to see breast tissue details more clearly to uncover breast cancer that may have otherwise been hidden by overlying breast tissue, a bone density machine, and an ultrasound machine that produces high-resolution image quality.

Located on the third floor of the Rockaway Beach Medical Arts Complex, the center provides an inviting, spa-like atmosphere. The walls are painted in a soothing blue and off-white color scheme, complete with ample, comfortable seating, colorful paintings and uplifting artwork that complements the zen-like ambiance.

The center was funded with a grant from the New York State Department of Health’s Statewide Health Care Facility Transformation Program II (SHCFTP) of $3,117,938 awarded to Episcopal Health Services Inc, and the St. John’s ICARE Foundation raised significant additional funds, which went to the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment.

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One of the five exam rooms at the Margaret O. Carpenter Women’s Health Center in Far Rockaway on March 31, 2022. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

The Right Reverend Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, who also serves as the chairman of the boards of trustees, opened the ceremony. He described Margaret O. Carpenter as a woman who has lived her faith tangibly and is a “walking living voice of everything that we personify as a hospital system and our care for the people in Rockaways.”

“So, it is a real joy that today we will dedicate this space to Margaret Carpenter as an outward and visible tangible expression of our care for God’s people,” the bishop said.

Gerard M. Walsh, CEO of Episcopal Health Services, emphasized that the outpatient center would benefit all people of the Rockaways, addressing potential health risks and catching them early.

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Bishop Lawrence Provenzano opens the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Margaret O. Carpenter Women’s Health Center in Far Rockaway on March 31, 2022. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“We have a real commitment, and I’ve always said this, is to take care of the people of the Rockaways in the Rockaways,” Walsh said.

He described Margaret O. Carpenter as “the real deal.”

“Margaret epitomizes our high care values,” Walsh said. “And for those of you who don’t know our values. They are innovation, compassion, accountability, respect and empathy. Being able to understand and walk in someone else’s shoes.”

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EHS CEO Gerald Walsh speaks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Margaret O. Carpenter Women’s Health Center in Far Rockaway on March 31, 2022. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Margaret O. Carpenter was humbled by the honor bestowed on her and said it was a great day for all women on the peninsula.

“They finally have access to state-of-the-art health services,” Carpenter said. She thanked Bishop Provenzano, Gerard M. Walsh and the board of trustees for their determination to bring the facility to the Rockaways.

“We are so grateful,” Carpenter said. “So, on behalf of all of us, we thank you for caring and for building this beautiful health center. God bless you for what you have done.”

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Margaret O. Carpenter (front) at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Margaret O. Carpenter Women’s Health Center in Far Rockaway on March 31, 2022. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

A key supporter of St. John’s Episcopal Hospital was Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who described Margaret O. Carpenter as a legacy and said it was “good to give people their flowers while they are here.”

Richards pointed to the infant mortality rate of 6.3 per 1,000 live births in the Rockaways and Broad Channel compared to the citywide rate of 4.4 per 1,000 and 4 per 1,000 in Queens. One in nine births in the Rockaways and Broad Channel are premature, which is also higher than the citywide rate.

He stressed that “we have to speak about these statistics” and that with the opening of the women’s health center, the Rockaways was taking a big step toward improving the healthcare inequities on the peninsula.

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Queens Borough President Donovan Richards speaks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Margaret O. Carpenter Women’s Health Center in Far Rockaway on March 31, 2022. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“St. John’s has come back for another million dollars this fiscal year to replace all of the critical beds, and I’m going to honor that request,” Richards promised.

NYC Council member Sevelan Powers-Brooks thanked Margaret Carpenter for her decades of advocacy for the St. John’s Episcopal Hospital and the Rockaway community, “one that we will be able to benefit from for years to come.”

The daughter and sister of healthcare professionals recognized the importance of the new healthcare facility.

“Having these services and not having to travel to other boroughs is so critically important and especially as we’re welcoming so many families to the peninsula,” Brooks-Powers said. “We know that we deserve health care that’s accessible, affordable and high quality. And we know that many people across the peninsula, in general in the city, they suffer from many inequities in the system. And it’s about time we bring this resource home.”

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NYC Councilmember Selvena Brooks-Powers speaks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Margaret O. Carpenter Women’s Health Center in Far Rockaway on March 31, 2022. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

NYC Councilwoman Joann Ariola, who has a background in healthcare, said the Rockaway Peninsula was not only a transportation desert but also a healthcare desert.

“I understand how underserved communities need health care, and if we don’t bring it to them — I used to do government outreach and community outreach — a lot of people don’t get the basic health needs and treatment that they need,” Ariola said.

Rosemary Bonilla, vice president of Physician Practise, oversaw the project from start to finish.

Addressing Margaret Carpenter, Bonilla said, “We’re so excited that this center bears the name of such a beautiful woman of faith, who walks the walk and talks the talk. Congratulations and thank you so much for all you do.”

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Rosemary Bonilla speaks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Margaret O. Carpenter Women’s Health Center in Far Rockaway on March 31, 2022. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Bonilla explained that the facility was equipped with ProLogic 3D mammography imaging technology, including an interventional 3D mammography room for performing breast biopsy procedures with the newest state-of-the-art technology called the 3D biopsy system.

“This system streamlines the patient biopsy process by reducing an eight-step breast biopsy process to a three-step biopsy process,” Bonilla said.

To schedule an appointment at the Margaret O. Carpenter Women’s Health Center, call 718-869-7500.

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