St. John’s Turns to Layoffs in Face of Financial Woes

St. John’s Turns to Layoffs in Face of Financial Woes

Union officials and area residents are worried about the future of St. John's Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway. Photo Courtesy 1199 SEIU

Union officials and area residents are worried about the future of St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway. Photo Courtesy 1199 SEIU

Plagued by financial concerns, the only remaining hospital on the Rockaway peninsula is having to resort to layoffs and is considering a merger with other area health institutions in order to stay afloat, officials said this week.

While St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, a 257-bed institution in Far Rockaway, released a statement saying it was looking into “possible layoffs,” others close to the situation said this week that around 40 to 50 employees were in the process of being laid off as the facility faces severe financial problems. In order to save money, board members at St. John’s – which has served the entire Rockaways after Peninsula Hospital was shuttered last year – are “exploring opportunities for mergers with other health systems,” according to a statement from the facility run by Episcopal Health Services.

“To date, no overtures to EHS have been made by North Shore LIJ,” St. John’s said in reference to an allegation by union officials that the hospital turned down a potential merger with North Shore.

Prompted by concerns that the hospital is hemorrhaging money, and by recent changes at the facility, union members, legislators and area residents rallied last week in support of St. John’s being a healthy facility that is able to remain one of the peninsula’s largest employers.

Union officials said the problems facing St. John’s are part of a worrisome trend in a city that is facing a number of potential hospital closures, including Brooklyn’s Long Island College and Interfaith Hospitals. Besides Peninsula Hospital, four other major health care institutions have closed in Queens in recent years, including St. John’s in Elmhurst, Mary Immaculate in Jamaica, and Parkway in Forest Hills.

“The healthcare crisis facing working-class and poor New Yorkers is getting worse,” the union 1199 SEIU said in a statement. “St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, the only acute-care facility for hundreds of thousands of patients in the Rockaways in Queens is endangered.”

While residents are concerned that the Rockaways’ only remaining hospital could shut down, forcing them to travel to such places as Jamaica Hospital or Brooklyn’s Coney Island Hospital, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder said the institution is not in any immediate danger of being shuttered.

“I continue to work with the hospital administration and community to make sure we maintain quality health care for the Rockaways,” Goldfeder said.

St. John’s representatives said they, too, share the union’s “apprehension about the fortunates of safety net hospitals like St. John’s Episcopal Hospital and the lack of state and federal support, particularly in the Rockaways.

“Like other safety net hospitals, St. John’s is under financial and regulatory pressures, but EHS is also committed to making necessary changes to keep [the facility] the principal provider of quality healthcare and education in the Rockaways and surrounding community,” the hospital said in its statement.

To address financial concerns, St. John’s has outsourced a number of its clinics. It relocated the family practice, internal medicine and pediatrics clinics to the Addabbo Family Health Centers in Rockaway.

“This has created new capabilities and opportunities for both providers, especially in regard to extending St. John’s post-doctoral programs,” the facility’s statement said. “For its specialty care clinics, the hospital is building a new practice office, located directly across the street.”

The ambulatory clinics were also relocated to make “space for the long overdue expansion of the emergency department,” the hospital’s statement said.

Once the clinics are fully moved, the first phase of the $15 million emergency department expansion will begin, which should help to ease crowded conditions at the facility that has had a spike in patients after Peninsula closed. Hospital officials stressed that approximately 12 employees have been added to the emergency department staff.

It also said that “certain services that have required substantial subsidy in the past will not be provided by EHS when comparable care and services can be obtained nearby.” The facility is transferring ownership of two nursing homes – Bishop MacLean and Bishop Hucles Episcopal Nurses Homes, and it will close the discrete Chemical Dependency Unit.

“Despite numerous attempts to communicate with delegates and union leadership about the current status of EHS and its future, there remains anxiety about job security,” St. John’s said in its statement. “Although some of these changes may cause disruption to existing staffing arrangements, EHS is committed to ensuring these changes go smoothly and to retaining and retraining staff wherever possible.”

By Anna Gustafson


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