Calling it a matter of life and death in the Rockaways, where a single 257-bed hospital serves nearly 125,000 residents — a population that increases exponentially during the summer months — Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers announced the formation of a blue-ribbon panel to explore remedies to the persistent lack of health care infrastructure.
The Far Rockaway Trauma Healthcare Access Task Force will evaluate healthcare access on the 11-mile-long peninsula, including the feasibility of a trauma center in Far Rockaway and the creation of a plan around strategic healthcare infrastructure.
“As we continue to see a rise in gun violence, as we continue to see a change in the peninsula with significant development, the need is very apparent,” Brooks-Powers said. “Residents need to feel secure that they can be treated for the most severe injuries on this peninsula. Time and time again residents are transported to Jamaica Hospital, 40 minutes away or longer.”
Brooks-Powers spoke in front of the construction site for Edgemere Commons, which is rising at the location of Peninsula Hospital which was closed by the state in 2012 leaving St. John’s Episcopal Hospital as the sole facility on the peninsula. She said the capacity at SJEH won’t be able to handle the increasing needs of a growing population that is home to the second deadliest ZIP code at the height of the pandemic.
“COVID-19 uncovered the underlying healthcare inequities affecting residents in eastern Rockaways,” Brooks-Powers said.
Mayor Eric Adams agreed a panel was necessary to address the issue.
“This task force is going to allow us to look at, not only to call for a trauma center based on the analysis by Health + Hospitals but also to look at the infrastructure,” Adams said. “We’re here to learn, listen and to ensure that we can accomplish the goals that the elected officials out here are requesting.”
More than three-quarters of the peninsula’s population is in the eastern neighborhoods of Far Rockaway, Arverne and Edgemere.
“The inadequacies of the healthcare resources available on the Rockaway Peninsula have negatively impacted the health of Rockaway residents for far too long — causing a disproportionate number of health problems compared to that of other communities,” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said. “These glaring disparities need to be addressed immediately and urgently, and I am confident that the Far Rockaway Healthcare Task Force will spur the creation of a much-needed trauma center in the Rockaways and lead to other significant improvements in the healthcare infrastructure of the peninsula.”
Richards added that the task force formed by Brooks-Powers and NYC Health + Hospitals will accomplish that goal.
“Health is a basic human right and we recognize that out here on the peninsula it’s a long distance to other hospitals and we need to figure out how we can meet the needs of this community,” NYC Health + Hospitals President and CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz said.
Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson said the task force is a real opportunity to ensure that the community has a seat at the table.
“We know that in New York, especially in Far Rockaway, the ability to live a long and healthy life is not equally available to all residents. This task force will help reverse this trend by promoting healthcare access and advancing equity through expanded trauma care services on the peninsula,” Anderson said. “I am committed to continued partnership with city government and our healthcare stakeholders to ensure a community-led process — that will help drive down the time, distance and cost of trauma care services in Far Rockaway — ultimately helping to save more lives.”
The Edgemere Commons project alone will create more than 2,000 new residential units.
“With one standing hospital, it’s impossible for it to serve the growing population that is currently here and for those to come. Many will pay and have paid the price of lifesaving treatments that our current hospital cannot provide since it is not a certified level-one trauma facility,” Edgemere Community Civic Association President Sonia Moise said. “A study is not necessary for one to know how long it takes for EMS to transport a trauma patient to Jamaica Hospital Center, just ask anyone on the peninsula, and the answer is too long.”
Rockaway resident Lailah Boyd has gathered 500 signatures on a petition for a trauma facility.
“With us having just one hospital and gun violence and cardiac arrest and swimming emergencies, I felt it was very important for me to start a petition because,” she said. “Because it’s the people in the community that’s gonna really bring it here.”
Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska echoed the urgent need.
“We have about 30,000 more people coming to Rockaway. Our population is going to increase 20% to 25% over the next three to four years,” Gaska said. “We need it now. We desperately need it now.”
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.