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The front entrance to Peninsula Hospital was shuttered Sunday afternoon, as it had been since the beginning of the month. A sign on the door of the Lillian and Ira Lechtman Pavilion said that after 104 years, the Far Rockaway hospital had closed its doors for good and the nearest emergency room, at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, wasn’t for another two miles east.
But the fight to save the hospital has only begun. Former hospital employees joined community leaders, board members and elected officials, including City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-Middle Village), Sunday afternoon to demand a public hearing on the closure, which was later announced Monday afternoon.
“With the closure of Peninsula Hospital, there is now a health care emergency in the Rockaways, and St. John’s Episcopal Hospital alone cannot handle the volume of emergency care necessary to meet the needs of 130,000 year-round residents,” Ulrich said. “This situation will become even more dire in the summer months.”
The elected officials and former hospital employees demanded the state Department of Health schedule a public hearing on Peninsula’s closure as required by the Hospital Closure Planning Act. Under the act, which was signed into law in 2010, the health commissioner must hold a public hearing within the hospital’s geographic area within 30 days after learning of the closure.
“We shouldn’t have to use political intimidation to do the right thing,” Turner said. “It should just be enough to do what’s right. Instead, we’re getting stone silence from the state.”
The DOH ordered Peninsula Hospital to stop admitting patients and cancel all upcoming surgeries in a statement Feb. 23, making the 30-day mark fall on March 24. The hospital closed its doors April 9 and Turner said Wednesday that a public hearing is set for May 10 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus, located at 333 Beach 90th St. in Rockaway Beach.,State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) will sponsor the meeting alongside Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) and state Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park).
The DOH confirmed that Smith’s office had spoken with Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley’s office Monday afternoon to organize the hearing.
Smith stood united with the other leaders to demand that DOH schedule the hearing sooner rather than later as patients’ options were limited.
“There’s no good excuse for this meeting not to happen,” Smith said. “The state isn’t properly representing us by keeping us in the dark for so long.”
The hospital filed for bankruptcy protection last year as it faced $13 million in debt. Bankruptcy trustee Lori Lapin Jones was the final call in the decision to close up for good.
In March, DOH officials ordered the hospital to stop admitting patients after inspectors recorded a total of 66 “serious deficiencies” in the administration and operation of the clinical lab.”
It was a call the protesting workers Sunday afternoon said was flawed and unfair.
Protest signs read “Rockaway needs Peninsula Hospital,” “DOH: Shame on you” and “The closing of Peninsula Hospital = Big mistake.”
Liz Sulik, a former director of public affairs for Peninsula, said the state’s silence on the matter has been the most frustrating for the 1,000 or so workers who have since lost their jobs.
“The complete lack of consideration and communication is a disgrace,” Sulik said. “Between all of these people here, we could do something. But we don’t know what’s happening at all.”
Dr. Wayne Dodakian, a doctor who worked at Peninsula, said the residents around Peninsula would suffer when the nearby St. John’s Hospital becomes overcrowded with patients.
“This summer will be a blood bath with all the people visiting the beaches,” Dodakian said. “It’s a shame when society puts the value of money over the sanctity of human life.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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