By Conor Greene
After refusing to bailout bankrupt St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals, the state Department of Health announced on Wednesday that it is providing money to other area facilities to help deal with a spike in patients.
St. John’s in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate in Jamaica stopped admitting patients on Saturday, including to their emergency rooms, as they prepare to close completely in the coming weeks. The move comes a week after parent company Caritas Health Care filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and submitted a closure plan to the state.
Last Friday, residents, community leaders and hospital staff gathered outside St. John’s in a last-ditch effort to convince Governor David Paterson to step in and save the hospitals.
However, their demands fell on deaf ears, and the hospitals began restricting admissions at midnight – leading to concerns that other area facilities will become overburdened by the increased demand for their services.
On Wednesday, state Health Commissioner Richard Daines announced $18 million in grants being provided to local hospitals “to ensure that residents of Queens continue to have access to essential health care services.” The money will also provide job placement services to the nearly 3,000 health care workers who lost their jobs when St. John’s and Mary Immaculate closed.
“These grants will help other health care facilities in the area expand their capacity to absorb the patients previously handled by these two Caritas hospitals and assist workers in finding new employment,” said Daines in a statement.
The grants include $14.5 million to expand capacity at eight facilities serving the Queens community and the extension of a state Department of Health contract with 1199 SIEU for the Displaced Workers Program. That will make up to $3 million available for job counseling, placement and retraining for displaced workers.
According to the press release, the state DOH has given “contingent approval for the closure plan” submitted by Caritas. “Despite over $55 million in state loans to Caritas, the hospital system was unable to develop a viable plan for continued operation,” the release notes.
In addition to the $3 million contract extension to 1199 SIEU for job counseling, placement and retraining, the following grants have been awarded:
•Health and Hospitals Corporation of New York City will receive
$3.6 million to expand patient capacity and emergency room services at its Elmhurst and Queens Hospital Centers;
•Medisys will receive $4.5 million for its Jamaica and Flushing sites;
•North Shore LIJ will receive $3.5 million for its Forest Hills and Franklin facilities;
•Wyckoff Medical Center near Ridgewood will receive $2.7 million;
•The Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center will receive $650,000 to maintain primary and preventative services at the St. Dominic’s Health Care Center.
The decision to provide the grant money comes as City Comptroller William Thompson, Councilman Tony Avella, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and other elected officials have called upon the state to provide Caritas with the funding needed to keep the two hospitals open.
“The closing of Mary Immaculate and St. John’s Hospitals would not only have a detrimental affect on the 2,500 hospital employees by Caritas Health Care, but also on the entire Borough of Queens, which relies heavily on their medical services,” said Avella. “The best solution at this point would be for HHC [Health and Hospitals Corp] to take over the administration of these two hospitals. It would improve management operations and, I believe, make it easier for the State and City to allocate funding to keep the hospitals open.”
Combined, the hospitals have about 450 beds and serve nearly 200,000 patients each year. Mary Immaculate is a level-one trauma center and houses a cancer institute and 115-bed nursing home. St. John’s is a certified stroke and heart failure center and has the borough’s only hyperbaric oxygen therapy unit.
“People will die if the Health Department closes these hospitals,” said Therese Wittner, a registered nurse and representative for the state Nurses Association at Mary Immaculate. “It is also unthinkable that 115 elderly people will be put out of the Fitzpatrick nursing home where they have lived for up to 15 years and developed close family times… The surrounding hospitals are overflowing and will not be able to handle the volume of patients. We are already seeing the consequences.”
According to the DOH, the closure date for St. John’s and Mary Immaculate is February 28.