Thursday, February 12, 2009
Two Hospitals Begin Limited Admissions
St. John's, Mary Immaculate Set to Close Within Weeks
By Conor Greene
Two local hospitals will no longer accept patients starting Saturday as they prepare to close in the coming weeks.
Caritas Health Care, the parent company of St. John’s Queens Hospital in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica, filed last week for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and submitted a closure plan to the state Department of Health. That decision means, barring a last minute state bailout, the two hospitals will likely close by February 28.
The process of shutting down its operations began soon after the board voted to file for bankruptcy. Beginning this week, Mary Immaculate was no longer accepting psychiatric patients, while St. John’s was no longer accepting pediatric patients. Starting midnight Friday, both hospitals will no longer accept any patients, including at their emergency rooms.
According to a source who received the FDNY operational order sent to EMS units, two ambulances will be stationed at each hospital ER beginning Friday night. Patients who arrive for treatment unaware of the closings will instead be taken to nearby hospitals.
The board’s decision came after several weeks of emergency meetings between local officials and hospital executives, who worked to secure a last minute deal to keep the struggling facilities open. The two hospitals are losing a total of about $5 million each month and have received $50 million in state grants and loans in the past two years – including $6 million in January.
“Our round-the-clock efforts with elected officials and with the New York State Department of Health over the past week have proven futile,” said Caritas CEO John Kastanis in a memo sent to employees. “No adequate source of funding has been identified and no long-term plan for the continued operation of the hospitals has been forthcoming.
“Since there has been no official or unofficial news from Albany this week regarding a possible solution to our crisis, the Board was, much to its dismay, left with no recourse,” continued Kastanis. “Time has essentially run out.”
Closing the hospitals would cost 2,500 healthcare professionals their jobs and force Queens residents to go elsewhere for medical treatment. Combined, the hospitals have about 450 beds and serve 200,000 individuals annually, including 100,000 patients in the two emergency rooms.
Several rallies were held in front of both hospitals and at City Hall in the past few weeks, and employees headed to Albany on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to convince the state to bail out St. John’s and Mary Immaculate. “Tomorrow is really to have the politicians see face to face the people who are going to be affected, to see the people who are providing for the registered voters and the community that we provide health care to” said registered nurse Carlos Quiles outside St. John’s on Tuesday.
Residents, employees and patients said that it is unacceptable for the state to refuse to take action to save the hospitals. “I can’t understand how they can close a hospital in such a heavily populated neighborhood such as this,” said Dave Herbert, whose father was rushed to St. John’s on Monday night. “I don’t know the politics behind this, but somebody needs to do something right away… If this place wasn’t open, where would we go? Elmhurst is already packed… It’s insane.”
Ken Akins, who brings his mother to St. John’s every week for wound care, thinks the impact on the patients is being ignored. “My mother is frightened. She doesn’t know if the hospital closes where she is going to go,” said Akins. “She has bonded very well with the people who give quality care here. It’s always the elderly, the disenfranchised that gets hit the hardest.”
Akins, who said he worked at Mary Immaculate for 30 years, blamed the hospital’s financial struggles on mismanagement. “It would be a shame before God if Governor Paterson allows them to close… It has nothing to do with the quality of care and support the staff gives their patients. If we lose, we’re losing something that can’t be replaced.”
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall called news of Caritas’ decision “distressing” in a statement. “We worked very hard to try and prevent the closures of both these hospitals. I have been in touch with Governor Paterson’s office on almost a daily basis to try and find a solution.”
Marshall, who first informed the public of the hospitals’ dire financial status at her State of the Borough address last month, said she is demanding to see the closure plan Caritas filed with the state. “I want to see how capacity will be built at other hospitals. I want to see that every resident of Queens continues to get the healthcare that they are entitled to receive,” she said.
In addition to the 400 beds that will be lost by the closures, Mary Immaculate features a 115-bed nursing home, a cancer center and is a level-one trauma center. St. John’s is a certified stroke and heart failure center and has the only hyperbaric oxygen therapy unit in Queens. These losses come just months after another local facility, Parkway Hospital in Forest Hills, closed, eliminating another 250 beds.
Over the past month, a group of local officials led by Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) have held meetings in hopes of finding a way to keep the hospitals open. At one point, officials at North-Shore Long Island Jewish Health System were exploring a plan to acquire the two hospitals and replace them with a state-of-the-art facility in central Queens. However, that would have required funding from the state.
In the end, Caritas determined that the negotiations, which reportedly also involved another health system, proved “futile.” Caritas, which also runs Wyckoff Hospital in Brooklyn, purchased St. John’s and Mary Immaculate for $41.5 million in 2006 from St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Centers, which had filed for bankruptcy protection the prior year.