Thursday, March 5, 2009

Two Area Hospitals Shut Doors


By Conor Greene

With no last minute state bailout, the fear of many local residents and health care workers has come to fruition with the closings of two area hospitals this week.

St. John’s Hospital in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica stopped admitting patients late on Saturday night and officially closed on Monday. The two hospitals, operated by bankrupt health care system Caritas, had stopped accepting patients at their emergency rooms earlier this month.

The ominous message, “Please don’t die on your way to another hospital,” was scrawled on a piece of plywood covering the entrance to the emergency room at St. John’s. A note on the main door told visitors who unwittingly arrived there to call 911 for medical help.

Myrna Bailey, who served as hospital administrator at St. John’s and Catherine Wilkinson, who rose to the ranks of administrative director during her 40 years at St. John’s, took one of their final walks through the empty corridors over the weekend.

“Silence is good in some situations, but not in this situation,” Wilkinson told NY1. “I’ve been listening to this silence for about a week now, so I’m kind of getting immune to it, if one can become immune to it, but initially it was very, very frightening.”

“Silence is golden, but not here,” added Bailey.

While the hospital’s parent company, Caritas, has struggled financially since purchasing the two facilities in late 2006, word of their imminent closure came earlier this year. Despite a number of rallies at the hospitals and pleas from residents, workers and elected officials, the state declined to provide additional funding to keep the facilities operating.

Instead, the state announced last month that it is providing $18 million to seven area hospitals to help them deal with the influx of new patients the closures are expected to generate. The money is to be used by the local facilities to expand their emergency rooms and add more beds. Combined, St. John’s and Mary Immaculate had about 450 beds and served nearly 200,000 patients annually.

City Comptroller William Thompson criticized the state for failing to bail out the two hospitals so they could continue operating until a plan is put into place to deal with fallout from the closings. “Despite numerous calls from the various stakeholders to prevent or delay the hospitals closures, the state has failed to keep [the] hospitals open,” he said in a statement. “Without putting a plan in place, the state has left many unanswered questions about how Queens residents will be able to get their health care needs met.”

According to Thompson, the fire department, which oversees Emergency Medical Services, “also has not addressed how the closures will impact the health and safety of area residents including transition plans for 911 emergency medical response and treatment services.”

Workers at other hospitals are now bracing for a rise in the number of patients showing up at their doors. For example, Jamaica Hospital’s emergency room had averaged about 350 patients per day. Now, with the emergency rooms at St. John’s and Mary Immaculate shut for the past few weeks, the number of daily patients at Jamaica is approaching 400, according to a report in the Daily News.

Now, about 2,500 healthcare workers are facing the grim prospects of entering the job market during at the worst possible time. “I want to chain myself to the chair,” a teary-eyed Laura Beidell told the New York Post. “Not only do we work here, but we’ve all brought our families here. We’ve had parents who died here. This place is very special to us.”

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