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Queens leaders fear impact from closing of hospitals

As St. John’s Hospital in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica filed for bankruptcy protection last week and prepared to start the closing process, community leaders agreed the strain on nearby hospitals would be immense.

St. John’s, a 227−bed hospital, serves the same area as Elmhurst Hospital Center, which is operating near or above capacity. Elmhurst Hospital declined to comment by press time Tuesday. Caritas, the company that operates St. John’s and Mary Immaculate, said it would close the emergency rooms at both hospitals Saturday.

“Elmhurst Hospital cannot absorb what St. John’s does,” said Richard Italiano, district manager of Community Board 4, which covers Elmhurst and Corona. “They’re overcapacity already.”

Italiano praised the spirit of demonstrators who planned to drive to Albany this week, but said the state does not have any more money to lend the hospitals, which had asked for $36 million from the legislators to operate through a restructuring plan.

“I think the protests and stuff are good, but I don’t know if they are going to make any difference,” he said. “Even if they wanted to, [the legislators] don’t have any money.”

State Sen. Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D−St. Albans), who held a news conference on the hospital crisis earlier this month at Borough Hall, said he would work to save the institutions. But he did not return phone calls asking for comment on the bankruptcy filing.

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association in Middle Village, said St. John’s is the closest hospital to his neighborhood.

“This is certainly unacceptable,” he said. “The health and safety of the neighborhood is being jeopardized.”

Middle Village and Maspeth have large senior populations that will increase as more baby boomers retire, Holden said. “The last thing we should be doing is considering closing hospitals.”

Southeast Queens leaders were similarly upset.

“People’s lives are at stake, said Community Board 12 Chairwoman Adjoa Gzifa. “To get from where you are in Jamaica to Queens Hospital is a longer period of time.”

Mary Immaculate has 225 beds and a level−1 trauma center that handled 45,000 patients in 2007. In addition to its primary health services, the hospital also has a cancer center and a 115−bed nursing home.

City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D−St. Albans) said that Jamaica Hospital is already operating at capacity and could not handle the additional load from Mary Immaculate if it were to close.

Italiano said the consequences of St. John’s closing would be dire for health care in his area.

City Councilwoman Helen Sears (D−Jackson Heights) warned that other hospitals would probably have to seek state certification to increase their patient capacity, which is a lengthy process.

“You need to have a labor force increase, more nurses,” she said. “You’re talking about months and months and months with the state bureaucratic maze, and in the meantime, you’re getting patients and you have to treat them with the same capacity that you have.”

Ivan Pereira contributed to this article.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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