Community Board Frustrated by Lack of Hospitals

As another Queens hospital closes, concern is growing on Community Board 5 that there’s an epidemic lack of beds in the borough.

At CB 5’s meeting last week, the chairman of the board’s Health and Human Services Committee introduced a resolution urging local politicians to find a fix.

Bob Cermeli, the committee chair, said he’s seen too many bankrupt or shuttered hospitals leading to a systemic crisis of space.

“We’re always in constant threat of disasters, man-made, natural, and if that happens, we need local hospitals,” said Cermeli. “If anything, we need the space to put the two million people in this county who could be affected by any kind of natural disaster. It’s very serious.”

His resolution was spurred by the closing of Peninsula Hospital in the Rockaways. It was shut down by the state this month and is the fifth hospital in Queens to close in recent years.

According to a comprehensive Queens health care report commissioned by the Borough President, there were 1.4 hospital beds per 1,000 Queens residents in 2006. Manhattan, by comparison, had more than seven beds per 1,000 residents.

Since then, St. John’s Hospital in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate in Jamaica both closed due to bankruptcy in 2009. They subtracted another 450 beds from the report’s numbers, and Pen-insula’s closure took away 173 more.

“We have a problem in Queens,” Cermeli said. “We don’t have enough beds to serve us. We live in Queens, and we have a right —we pay our taxes—we have a right to have these facilities.”

Cermeli said he and the rest of the Health and Human Services Committee had been involved in discussing and protesting the closure of St. John’s and others but there needs to be a more comprehensive response from higher on the totem poll.

“So what we’re saying to the elected officials is; don’t be laissez faire about this thing,” he said. “This is a systemic problem. It has to be addressed.”

Board member Kathi Masi, who chaired the meeting, said the lack of beds is endemic to her own neighborhood in Glendale, where ambulances have nowhere closer than Elmhurst Hospital to transport patients. “I had this issue three weeks ago where I had to put my son in our car and drive him to a hospital because they wanted to take him to Elmhurst,” Masi said.

However, at least two board members said CB 5 should be worried with the quality of local health care, not the quantity.

For example, Peninsula began spiraling toward closure when the state found unsafe conditions in its lab—including problems in its blood storage process.

“I think the issue is that we don’t have hospitals for our community, at all—be it good bad, indifferent— we don’t have beds. We don’t have hospitals,” Masi said.

Cermeli’s resolution was ultimately sent to committee for further discussion.

By Jeremiah Dobruck


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