The big sign that for nearly two years screamed “COMING SOON” is gone, as is the haphazardly placed plywood behind imposing steel gates.
The Ozone Park branch of the Joseph Addabbo Health Center System finally — and proudly — replaced all that with a new sign:
WE ARE OPEN
Outside an employee stands at a table, handing out literature to people passing by about what is offered in the center: dental care, pediatrics, OB/GYN and help for the underinsured. She quickly runs inside to grab more brochures. As she opens the door, a rush of air blows out. Air conditioning or a sigh of relief?
The facility at 105-34 Rockaway Blvd. held its ribbon cutting on Oct. 26, 2012 — three days before Hurricane Sandy, which destroyed the organization’s flagship Rockaway office and a satellite facility in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Since then, the process to formally open the Ozone Park location has been a nightmare the organization, named for the former congressman who represented South Queens, wasn’t expecting.
The location, the organization’s seventh, was due to open several weeks after that ribbon cutting. But weeks turned into months and months turned into years.
First the organization fired its executive director, Dr. Peter Nelson, suddenly, due to internal rifts,
Then, the center had to renovate its offices in Rockaway and Red Hook, which slowed things down company-wide.
Then, finally, issues with the city over permits and construction in Ozone Park dragged on — and on.
The site is a mixed-use building with residential units above the main offices, and the safety protocols the center had to go through to operate a medical facility there were more than it was expecting.
Last October, Robert Fliegel, then-interim executive director of the Addabbo Health Center System, said the organization had finished the center and was just waiting for the city to give the OK to open.
“The site has been done since December, and we have been struggling to get certificates of occupancy from the city,” he said then.
It would still be another half year, at least.
In the process, the Addabbo Center had to give back $250,000 in grants to the state awarded by the Primary Care Development Corp. because the Ozone Park facility did not open within the required time frame.
Under PCDC rules, a medical facility has to be operating within a year. It had been much longer than that.
Staff hired to work in the Ozone Park center filled in at other facilities while they waited for their permanent place of employment to open.
The frustration existed right up to the top.
“The healthcare world is burning outside my window and we want to get in there,” Fliegel said in October, noting that South Queens is notoriously underserved.
Since the closing of Jamaica’s Mary Immaculate Hospital in 2009 and Peninsula Hospital in Rockaway in 2011, Jamaica Hospital Medical Center is the only major medical institution in the area.
Now, finally, Addabbo Heath Center gets to do its part in putting the fires out.