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HOSPITAL CRISIS: Marshall dismayed at hospital shortage

A decade after the health care merger that brought St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals under the aegis of St. Vincent’s and five years after that organization filed for bankruptcy, Borough President Helen Marshall’s office is disappointed with the outcome.

“We had great hopes that it was going to strengthen the three institutions by being part of a bigger, stronger health system,” said Paola Miceli, Marshall’s health director, referring to the two hospitals closed in 2009 and St. Joseph’s in Fresh Meadows, which went out of business in 2004. “Unfortunately, it never really panned out that way. They were kind of stepchildren all along.”

Miceli believes the diocese is not interested in being involved in health care any longer.

Marshall was more succinct in her assessment of the merger.

“Maybe that was a mistake,” she said.

Now that the borough has 600 fewer hospital beds than it did in 2008, Marshall has focused her efforts on augmenting existing facilities and establishing more walk-in clinics, especially in western Queens.

“We have Mt. Sinai, which is landlocked. [Hospital Director Caryn Schwab] works her butt off,” Marshall said. “She’s done quite a bit of work to make it even more efficient. But what we really would like them to do is build a full hospital there.”

Schwab and the elected officials from the Astoria area are working to raise $70 million to qualify for state and federal funding in order to build a new, nine-story structure next to the existing building.

As for the two shuttered hospitals, Marshall has hopes that some kind of health care provider will move into the old St. John’s property on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst. Owner Jack Guttman has expressed willingness to lease the site to such a tenant, Marshall said.

“He seemed like a very nice person, a regular guy,” Marshall said. “They came in like they were going to dig a ditch, but that’s OK. That kind of added to their trustworthiness.”

But Marshall’s staff were far less confident about Mary Immaculate, which Guttman sold to Brooklyn real estate developer Joseph Chetrit.

Chetrit has not responded to Marshall’s requests for a meeting, she said, and her staff is concerned Chetrit plans to raze the old hospital to build condominiums next to Rufus King Park.

But whatever happens with the sites may not happen quickly.

“[Guttman] is not opposed to renting to that type of operation,” Miceli said. “The problem has been, again, all the providers we’ve talked to have been having so much difficulty running the operations they have now because of the Medicaid cuts and because of the economy.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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