The hospitals, which are both overseen by Caritas Health Care, are in danger of filing for bankruptcy due to a delay in receiving claims from Medicaid, Medicare, and other private insurance providers. Hospital officials said that without an influx of funding from the state, both facilities could close as soon as February.
In an effort to display the importance of these two hospitals to the community, local elected officials and hospital employees staged a demonstration last Saturday on the steps of St. John’s Hospital on Queens Boulevard.
Dozens of employees of the hospitals and concerned neighbors came out to protest the possible closings and stand in solidarity with the medical facilities that have served Queens residents in their toughest times.
“If you don’t have your health, you’ve got nothing,” said Councilman Tony Avella. “We can’t be about the financial bottom line when it comes to medicine, and we’ve got to keep these hospitals open.”
“It’s dollars and cents, but it’s also about people,” said City Comptroller William Thomson. “These hospitals employ 3,000 people, and last year they served 45,000. Where will these people go? The state has put money ahead of people.”
“It’s scary,” said St. John’s employee Margaret Zimmerman. “It’s not just us that’s closing. There are not that many hospitals left in Queens.”
“The pharmacists are scared, the Macy’s is scared, the entire neighborhood around here is dependent on the hospital’s employees and patients for their economy,” said Barbara Czerewin, another employee.
The hospital’s fate lies in the hands of the State Health Department (SDOH), which has looked to close a number of money-losing hospitals in New York. Many New York City hospitals have faced difficult times in the current economy, as insurance providers, patients, and the state itself are struggling to stay afloat.
Queens has already lost New Parkway Hospital, and though nearby Elmhurst Hospital is thriving, many community leaders say that it cannot effectively absorb the patients that would be turned away from a closed St. John’s and Mary Immaculate.
“I have watched hospitals close, and it is detrimental to the community,” said Assemblyman Michael DenDekker. “Elmhurst hospital will not be able to handle this neighborhood alone. There has to be another way.”
Many state elected officials spoke in support of the hospital, but they have little sway with the SDOH. The hospitals have received close to $50 million in additional state funding over the last two years, but the funding will not continue into 2009.
“If we fight harder and put in an effort, we can keep these hospitals open,” said State Senator Shirley Huntley. “It makes you sad when you see people who could care less about health care.”
A second rally was held Tuesday on the steps of City Hall. When asked if she thought the demonstrations would help save the hospitals, Czerewin said, “It may work, it may not, but we will scream as loud as we can.”