New Parkway Hospital was one of five facilities in New York City recommended on Tuesday for closure by a state commission. At the same time, the commission suggested giving the Forest Hills hospital two years before any action is taken.
The governor’s Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century, headed by Stephen Berger, has been studying the possible closure of underutilized hospitals throughout the state to reduce burgeoning health care costs.
There is no guarantee the recommendations will be carried out. They first go to the governor for review, and then the legislature must accept or reject them in full by the end of December. Gov. George Pataki was out of town on Tuesday but issued a statement saying he would give the report a thorough review.
Governor elect Eliot Spitzer has indicated some closures are necessary; however, it is not clear what action, if any, he will take on the commission’s findings. The report also calls for the merging of two Rockaway hospitals—Peninsula and St. John’s Episcopal. It further recommends the addition of 40 45 beds at Queens Hospital Center in Jamaica.
In asking that New Parkway Hospital be closed, the commission concluded it is not essential in the community and surrounding facilities can meet patient demand.
Dr. Robert Aquino bought the financially troubled facility in 2005, but was not able to stem its mounting financial problems. A month after Aquino took over, Parkway filed for Chapter 11 protection, because it was unable to repay millions of dollars in debt to the IRS, utilities, ambulance workers and the employees’ union. It has over 500 employees.
Since then, New Parkway has been able to raise its occupancy rate to 60 percent of capacity in the 251 bed facility. The hospital expects to emerge from bankruptcy within 60 days.
New Parkway officials are currently working with Mount Sinai Hospital to form an affiliation. Under the plan, Mt. Sinai will receive referrals from Parkway doctors and Parkway’s quality assurance will be handled by Mt. Sinai.
The Berger commission, aware of changes being made at New Parkway, recommended holding off on the closure to give the hospital a chance to reconfigure services and downsize beds. “It may be worthwhile to delay immediate decisions and to follow the outcomes of the bankruptcy process and the ability to sustain and improve on current quality and cost,” the report said.
Congressman Anthony Weiner, who lives near New Parkway and was treated there recently, led a rally on Tuesday at the facility, located at 70 35 113th St. He discussed a plan he will submit at the next session of Congress to help ailing New York hospitals.
He was joined by hospital workers, elected officials and area residents to protest the plan to close New Parkway. “We need leverage to make it (health care) better,” Weiner said. “There will be a new government in Albany. This is not the time to make changes.”
His plans include expediting mergers and affiliations of hospitals, changing the Medicaid reimbursement formula and giving New York City authority over its own hospitals. He was supported by three state senators, from both political parties, who spoke at the rally. They included Toby Stavisky of Flushing and George Onorato of Astoria, both Democrats, and Serphin Maltese of Glendale, a Republican.
Aquino, who seemed optimistic about the future, told the crowd: “The hospital will not close. We will go forward with Mt. Sinai and will be here to serve you a long time.” Earlier he told a supporter: “We’ll get through this like we’ve gotten through everything else.”
Rebecca Knight, a registered nurse at New Parkway for 27 years, was very upset about the potential closing. “We are like a family here and the hospital is especially needed for the elderly,” she said.
Vicki Malone Allan, executive director of the nearby Sterling Glen senior living facility, called New Parkway integral to the Forest Hills area. “It would have an impact on the community if it was closed. One of our resident’s lives was saved yesterday here,” she said.
New Parkway spokesman Fred Stewart noted that as a private hospital, it pays taxes. “Why pick on a hospital that is a source of revenue,” he said. “We cost the state nothing.”
Borough President Helen Marshall, who has been a strong supporter of retaining all hospitals in Queens, was travelling on Tuesday, but released a statement on the report. “The commission’s recommendation that Parkway Hospital close would result in the loss of 250 beds. It is the loss of those beds that is simply unacceptable,” she said.
A study commissioned by her office indicates that Queens has 1.4 beds per 1,000 residents, while Manhattan has 7.1 beds for the same number of people. It also showed that a large percentage of Queens residents are seeking medical care outside the borough because it lacks enough specialization, including cardiac care and a burn unit.
In a news conference Tuesday morning before the Berger commission report was officially released, health advocates blasted the plan to close hospitals. Camille Edwards, of the New York State Nurses Association, said it would further cut off access to health care. “It will also put further stress on the heath care system,” she added. “We will continue to work for health care justice.”
Dr. Alan Sager, a professor at Boston University, has studied 52 cites around the country that have eliminated hospitals. “It ends up as survival of the fattest,” he said. “It (commission report) looks like a Wall Street solution instead of a Main Street solution.”
Other hospitals in New York City recommended for closure are St. Vincent’s Midtown Hospital and Cabrini Medical Center, both in Manhattan, Victory Memorial in Brooklyn and New York Westchester Square Medical Center in the Bronx. The commission is also calling for the closure of four other hospitals around the state.