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In the wake of the shutdown of Parkway Hospital, Queens could be facing the loss of two more major healthcare facilities, but elected officials are scrambling to find ways to keep both St. John’s Hospital in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica open.
Both hospitals are close to bankruptcy, Borough President Helen Marshall announced at her State of the Borough address Tuesday.
The audience of several hundred gasped as Marshall described the two hospitals as being “on the verge of closure.”
Marshall spokesman Dan Andrews said the borough president expected the facilities to be bankrupt sometime in February.
“It’s a real problem for us,” said U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D−Jackson Heights), who said he spoke with officials from the hospitals who told him they were considering a joint venture with the North Shore−Long Island Jewish Health System to support themselves.
Crowley said he would ask Gov. David Paterson for help, but noted he was just starting to talk about solutions for the cash−strapped facilities.
“It’s important we keep it open,” he said of St. John’s, which is in his congressional district.
North Shore−LIJ spokesman Terry Lynam said an agreement for Caritas — the corporation that oversees Mary Immaculate and St. John’s — to negotiate exclusively with the health system was signed about six weeks ago.
He said North Shore−LIJ has been in discussions with Caritas about acquiring Mary Immaculate and St. John’s and then replacing them with a new facility to be built by the health system.
The new hospital, which would be constructed in Queens, would enable North Shore−LIJ to discontinue operations at Forest Hills Hospital, Lynam said.
If the negotiations do not work out, he said, the health system would invest resources into the Forest Hills facility.
Parkway Hospital in Forest Hills stopped admitting inpatients in November after it unsuccessfully fought its pegged closure by the Berger Commission.
A hospital source said Mary Immaculate and St. John’s together are now losing up to $5 million a month.
The source said there was speculation that the two hospitals, operated by Caritas Health Care — a corporation set up by Wyckoff Heights Medical Center after it acquired them from St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Centers — were on the verge of bankruptcy.
“We’ve been hearing rumors about it and we hear things are coming to a head,” the source said.
The source said there is tension between SEIU 1199 and Caritas over payments the corporation has yet to make to the health care union’s workers at the hospitals.
According to the source, 1199 recently held off on demanding the payments because of Caritas’ fiscal situation, but the union is now fuming since it learned Caritas is moving toward bankruptcy.
“They’re livid right now,” the source said.
The source said it was expected that state Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D−St. Albans), whose district is near Mary Immaculate, would get involved.
“You can bet he’s going to interject himself in this whole thing,” the source said.
Smith said in a statement that he has already been active on the issue.
“My office has since gotten involved with the dialogue surrounding the matter in search of possible solutions,” he said. “We will continue speaking with other providers in the area to ensure that the essential services in the community such as ambulatory and emergency care are available for local residents.”
Andrews said the borough president’s office plans to hold a closed−door meeting between Caritas and elected officials that was “quickly put together in wake of continuing developments.”
State Sen. Shirley Huntley (D−Jamaica), whose district covers Mary Immaculate, said she would work to secure funding for the hospital and spoke to Marshall about the facility’s situation.
“We’re both in agreement that we’re going to do whatever we can to keep it open,” she said. City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D−St. Albans) said state funding for Mary Immaculate was in jeopardy due to budget issues in Albany and urged state leaders to work to save the hospital because it provides vital health services to his constituents.
“The merger with Wyckoff Hospital never seemed to create the energy they needed. It definitely needs state intervention,” he said.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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