Following the late March announcement that Far Rockaway-based Peninsula Hospital will be closing, local legislators are demanding answers from Department of Health (DOH) officials.
Earlier this week, U.S. Representative Bob Turner (NY-09) and Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) sent a letter to state DOH Commissioner Nirav Shah calling for a public meeting in the Rockaways to address questions regarding the health department’s decision to close Peninsula Hospital.
In the letter, Turner and Ulrich stated that the announcement of the hospital’s closing in late March had caused “great alarm and confusion” around their communities.
On March 26, Lori Lapin Jones, a court-appointed trustee handling the hospital’s proceedings, recommended that the hospital close its doors, according to papers filed in bankruptcy court. The reason was because there was not enough funding available to fix the hospital’s lab.
In late February, the state Department of Health (DOH) ordered a partial shutdown of the hospital and a closure of its lab facilities following an inspection that cited more than 60 areas of concern within the lab, including poorly trained staff and the handling of stored blood for patients.
The letter also stated that residents “deserve some clarity on what process led to this decision” and asked that state health department officials hold a public hearing in the area as soon as possible so they can address the concerns of Queens residents worried about the closing.
“This is an unfortunate development for the people who use and work at Peninsula Hospital,” Turner said on the closing. “My thoughts are with the employees and residents who will be affected by this decision during such tough economic times. My hope is that the letter from Councilman Ulrich and I will motivate the New York Department of Health to send a representative who can answer the important questions raised by members of the community.”
Ulrich added that if the hospital is not re-opened, the well-being of Rockaways residents would be severely compromised.
“Peninsula Hospital must re-open. If the State Department of Health and the court-appointed trustee allow it to close permanently, the health and safety of every single Rockaway resident will be severely compromised. I am also concerned about the hundreds of employees who will lose their jobs for good if this decision is made final. This is simply unacceptable,” Ulrich said.
With Peninsula Hospital one of only two hospitals in the Rockaways, both legislators were concerned that St. John’s Hospital would be burdened, and perhaps overwhelmed, by the weight of managing the emergency medical needs of the Rockaways and Broad Channel — including a new community being built on the peninsula that encompasses roughly 60 blocks of two-family homes.
Requests for comment made to officials at Peninsula Hospital were not returned, and DOH officials, when reached, did not directly address whether they would entertain a sit-down with either legislators or the community.
“DOH has received a closure plan from Peninsula Hospital for our review and approval,” said Jeffrey Hammond, a spokesman for the DOH. “The Department will monitor operations at Peninsula to ensure an orderly closure.”
On April 1, state Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Far Rockaway) attended a rally at the hospital with healthcare employees, current patients and community members to save Peninsula Hospital. That rally was one of several nightly rallies the community held in protest of the decision to close the hospital.
“Closure of Peninsula Hospital will put our neighborhood and families at risk and we must stand up in opposition to ensure our voices are heard,” Goldfeder said.
By Jean-Paul Salamanca