On a blustery Monday afternoon, Democratic Assembly hopeful Ron Kim and state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Whitestone), along with members of the 1199SEIU labor union, held a press conference to discuss Queen’s hospital closings.
“We’re here for a very simple reason,” Kim said, in front of Flushing Hospital Medical Center. “We want to make sure that our hospitals stay open.”
In the past five years, four hospitals in the borough have been closed. They include Parkway Hospital in 2008, Mary Immaculate and St. John’s hospitals in 2009, and most recently, Peninsula Hospital last April.
Flushing Hospital Medical Center is a part of the MediSys network. Peninsula Hospital was sold by MediSys a year before it was closed.
Kim and Stavisky noted that the closing of these hospitals means that the sick are being funneled to other facilities, which leads to overcrowding. According to Stavisky, when these hospitals run out of beds they house patients in the emergency rooms, which is very expensive. “Emergency rooms should be for emergencies,” she said. “That places a terrible burden on the other hospitals that are open here in Queens.”
Both blasted practices that led to the closings. They said they are partially attributed to money that was spent on capital projects, a decision that Kim finds counterintuitive. “We could have kept a couple of those hospitals open with that money,” he said. “We close hospitals and expand on capital projects miles and miles away. It doesn’t make any logical sense. I just want to make sure that we show strength.”
Stavisky pointed out that jobs are at issue too. “These are jobs,” she said, looking at the union members in attendance, “union jobs.”
Stavisky also believes that Republicans in the legislature are acting as roadblocks for the Health Insurance Exchange. The HIC consists of a number of healthcare plans which are also eligible for federal subsidies and are part of Obamacare. “Hopefully the federal programs will help,” she said. “What we really want to do is make sure that everyone has health insurance. It shouldn’t be for the very rich, or the very poor.”
Hospitals like Flushing Hospital Medical Center provide services to large numbers of immigrants, which Stavisky also praised. “Just look around us,” she said. “We are a community of immigrants, and immigrants need healthcare, and they often need it in their own language, and Flushing has done a remarkable job providing that for the immigrant community.”
Kim, who is of Korean descent, also called the immigrant community the “backbone of the middle class.”
According to him, the money for healthcare is out there. Over the last three years, Kim says the government has given out over a hundred million dollars, but that the funding needs to be used properly. “We want to make sure we spend that money wisely,” Kim said, “so no hospital will ever close again.”
Kim said he wants to focus on preventative measures. “… at the state level we want to make sure that we take healthcare very seriously,” he said.
He also criticized the Department of Heath, saying the community was blindsided by the hospital closings. “That is simply not acceptable,” Kim said.
“Healthcare is obviously one of the reasons why the immigrant community is moving to this borough, moving to this country,” he added. “They want better education; they want the American Dream. If we can’t provide that, I think we are failing this borough.”
Kim has been endorsed by the Queens Democratic Party to replace Assemblywoman Grace Meng, who is running for Congress. Stavisky has been in office for 13 years. She will be opposed in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary by John Messer. Messer lost the primary against Stavisky two years ago.