Hospitals Taken Off Life Support
by Daniel Bush
Mar 04, 2009 | 3424 views | 0 0 comments | 70 70 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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St. John's supporters held a tearful candlelight vigil last Saturday night.
This week ambulances will wait outside of St. John's Queens and Mary Immaculate hospitals, which closed their doors for good on Sunday.

The ambulances, from other hospitals, are there to ferry patients who might not know of the closings to other health care facilities, and are a painful reminder of the failed effort to save the two private hospitals from going under.

The closings come after months of unsuccessful efforts by city and state elected officials who lobbied Governor David Paterson and the state Health Department to provide the necessary funding to keep the two, privately owned facilities from filing for bankruptcy.

"I am deeply saddened by the closing of [the] two Queens hospitals," New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum said in a statement on Monday of St. John’s, in Elmhurst, and Mary Immaculate, in Jamaica.

The hospital closings are expected to put an added strain on other borough hospitals, such as New York Hospital Queens, Forest Hills Hospital, and Elmhurst Hospital Center, said Gotbaum.

“We’ve seen an increase in patients over the past couple of weeks already,” said Dario Centorcelli, the associate executive director for external affairs at Elmhurst Hospital. Centorcelli said Elmhurst Hospital has put additional doctors, nurses and emergency room personnel on call to cope with the influx. “We’re looking to expand our emergency rooms services and add more beds,” Centorcelli said. “When people get sick they have to go somewhere. They’re probably going to come here.”

In addition to the burden placed on area hospitals, the closing of St. John’s and Mary Immaculate put around 2,500 people out of work, according to Gotbaum.

"In an economy where jobs are becoming scarce," Gotbaum said, "this is devastating news to many Queens families."

After Queens Borough President Helen Marshall announced in her January state of the borough address that both hospitals were in dire financial straits and could file for bankruptcy, borough politicians and community leaders stepped up efforts to convince Paterson and the Health Department to intervene.

The two hospitals, which combined had over 400 beds, were run by the health care management company Caritas. The state gave the troubled Caritas $44 million in loans and grants over the past two years to keep the hospitals afloat, before declining to come through with an emergency bailout this winter.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who attended a midnight vigil on Saturday at St. John's, said in a statement the closing was a terrible blow for Queens residents.

"Thousands of people are out of work during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; local businesses will take a tremendous hit; and access to health care for Queens residents has become an even greater challenge," Crowley said. "While I continue to support the staff and their families through city agencies, I will pressure Governor Paterson to find a solution that meets the needs of the people of Queens."
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