Today’s news:

Hospital closings bill now law

Two borough state legislators praised the long-awaited passage of a new bill that will help prevent communities from confronting health care voids similar to the one Queens has faced since the closures of Mary Immaculate and St. John’s hospitals last year.

On Friday, Gov. David Paterson signed the Hospitals Closure Act into law and now the state Department of Health must go through new procedures when a major medical center closes in the state. State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) sponsored the bill because they said that when the Queens hospitals shut their doors last year, no one saw it coming and as a result, southeast and western Queens neighborhoods were not ready to handle the consequences.

“Communities deserve an honest assessment of a hospital closing’s impact and a plan for serving their health care needs, and this new law will provide both,” Lancman said in a statement.

As part of the act’s requirements, the DOH must hold a community forum 30 days before a hospital’s closing. Representatives will hear from neighborhood members and leaders from the area about their health-care needs and how the closing will affect them.

The department will then come back with a detailed report on the state of health care for the community and how it plans to deal with the loss of the hospital.

Huntley said such a plan would have helped the more than 100,000 patients who used Mary Immaculate and St. John’s and had nowhere to go when it closed in March 2009.

“It is equally important to involve communities in the planned closure of a hospital and in replacing the most important services residents rely on. The residents of the community where a hospital is located have the best understanding of the services they need and what needs to be done,” she said in a statement.

The bill was first introduced last year, but it was vetoed by the governor last fall. Lancman said Paterson wanted some of the rules of the public forum changed and the bill went back to square one.

After changes were made to fit the governor’s concerns, it passed.

“The passage of this new law is a great victory for all New Yorkers who rely on their community hospitals to provide accessible quality medical care,” Lancman said in a statement.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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