South Queens residents are expected to pack an overdue state Department of Health hearing on the impact of closing Peninsula Hospital today, May 10, when community leaders and legislators say they hope to convince the DOH that there is a “healthcare emergency” in the Rockaways and another medical facility is desperately needed.
“Make no mistake, this is a health crisis and death sentence to the people of the Rockaways and surrounding communities, as the impacts ripple across the borough,” said Brett Scudder, a community activist.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah is expected to participate in the public hearing, set for 3 to 7 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus at 333 Beach 90 St. in Rockaway Beach. While state law mandates that the DOH hold a public hearing on the impact of a hospital closure, it was not until a number of legislators and civic leaders protested and pressured the state to do so that such a meeting was announced last week.
Peninsula Hospital in Far Rockaway closed its doors in April, about 104 years after it first opened in what was then a sleepy beach community. The end of the 173-bed facility, which employed about 1,000 people, leaves one hospital on the peninsula,St. John’s Episcopal in Far Rockaway.
“Providing residents with an opportunity to ask questions and get answers is the least the Department of Health can do, not to mention that it is required by law,” said U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-Queens, Brooklyn), who gathered outside Peninsula Hospital last week with Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Jamaica) to call for the state to hold a hearing. “There are serious questions about how the community’s healthcare needs will be met going forward.”
But while Turner said he’s pleased the state is seeking community input, he is upset that the hearing’s hours run during the workday.
“Holding the meeting during this time will make it difficult for many hard-working residents to attend,” Turner said.
Ulrich called the hospital’s closure “nothing less than a healthcare emergency for the 130,000 year-round residents of the Rockaway Peninsula.”
Ulrich also criticized the state for holding an event that will be difficult for some residents to attend.
“While I welcome the opportunity for this discussion, it comes only after several requests for dialogue have gone ignored, and at a time that is less than convenient for most of the hard-working people of Rockaway,” Ulrich said. “They deserve better.”’
Turner and Ulrich had sent a letter to Shah on March 28 requesting the required public meeting, but received no response. They then sent a letter to Gov. Cuomo on April 23 with the same request.
The end of Peninsula comes on the heels of a rocky seven months for the institution, including the state shuttering its clinical lab after documenting a long list of “serious deficiencies” with it. The hospital was rocked by financial problems, and Peninsula’s parent company, MediSys, ended its affiliation with the medical canter last August. At that point, the state had targeted Peninsula for closure, but the Brooklyn-based Revival Home Health Care reached a deal to take over the facility, but that fell through.
A number of companies have expressed interest in reopening Peninsula, including the Chicago-based People’s Choice Hospital. PCH President Seth Guterman wrote a letter to Shah on April 27, requesting a meeting with the DOH and stating that he aims to open a healthcare facility in the Rockaways.
“The focus of this Peninsula healthcare community initiative would be to provide real time preventive medicine in a financially distressed community while, at the same time, reopening an acute care hospital, save over 1,000 jobs, stop the risk of an increased death rate due to limited resources and prevent significant delays in accessing healthcare that has occurred due to the closing of Peninsula Hospital,” Guterman wrote in his letter.
Assemblywoman Michele Titus (D-Far Rockaway) said she hopes the community will turn out in force for the hearing.
“This meeting gives our community a much-needed opportunity to get exactly what we want in healthcare for the Rockaways,” Titus said.