By Conor Greene
New Parkway Hospital is claiming in a lawsuit that it was ordered to shut down by the state after its chief executive officer Robert Aquino refused to pay bribes demanded by former state Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio.
The lawsuit, filed last week in Queens Supreme Court, names the state as a defendant and seeks to have its operating license renewed after it was revoked last November based on the findings of the Berger Commission. Despite that group’s recommendation that the state wait two years before closing the Forest Hills facility, it was shut last year – something the lawsuit blames on Seminerio’s inappropriate lobbying activities.
The state Health Department has previously said that the closing of Parkway was because it received the lowest score on criteria used by the commission to rank struggling hospitals. Seminerio recently resigned after 30 years in office and pleaded guilty to fraud charges accusing him of taking illegal consulting fees from Jamaica Hospital. The lawsuit argues that Seminerio’s guilty plea dissolves his right against self incrimination and seeks to have him deposed regarding his alleged extortion attempt of Parkway.
In court documents, Aquino states that Seminerio told him that he would make Aquino’s life “miserable” if he didn’t agree to pay him consulting fees that reportedly would have been between $10,000 and $15,000 per month. “It is self-evident that Seminerio’s criminal conduct had a direct impact on the decision to close Parkway Hospital,” he argues. “As an operating hospital, Parkway’s license could not be revoked absent of due process. Having a license revoked for the refusal to pay a bribe to a public official surely constitutes the denial of due process.”
Aquino also argues that the 251-bed hospital should be considered for reopening since two other local hospitals closed after the Berger Commission made its recommendations. He also questions whether the city is ready to handle a possible new outbreak of Swine Flu this fall, which has hit the Southern Hemisphere hard during the first few weeks of its flu season.
The federal indictment against Seminerio also accused him of attempting to force another hospital, now know to be Parkway, to pay him monthly consulting fees. When Aquino refused his demands, Seminerio lobbied on behalf of Jamaica Hospital.
“There is little doubt that such ‘advocacy’ resulted in the closure of the ‘non-client hospital,’ which as everyone now knows is the New Parkway Hospital. Indeed, the Department of Health essentially overrode the initial recommendation of the so-called Berger Commissioner that a wait-and-see approach be taken with respect to Parkway and directed its closure,” wrote Aquino in a letter to Gov. David Paterson and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.