Two Queens hospitals heading into bankruptcy

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Despite public outcry and the intervention of the borough president – who has asked the state to at least delay any planned closure of St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals – on Friday, January 23 the Board of Directors of Caritas Health Care,
Inc., which operates the two facilities, adopted a resolution authorizing the Corporation to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at the end of January.
Although “no bankruptcy filing has been made,” the Board also authorized the submission of a draft closure plan to the New York State Department of Health (DOH) “due to unexpected financial difficulties resulting from the depth of the economic downturn, and its resulting unanticipated severe impact on the state and city’s ability to provide sufficient additional funding.”
According to a press release from Caritas, letters went out on Friday informing employees, “the unions that represent them and the City Administration notifying them about the possible closure of both facilities. All affiliated physicians were also notified.”
That same day, the DOH loaned Caritas $6 million to make payroll, according to Claudia Hutton, DOH spokesperson.
“She [Borough President Helen Marshall] doesn’t want to see the cessation of services,” said Alex Rosa, spokesperson for Marshall, who on Friday, January 23 was up in Albany in talks with Governor David Paterson and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith. “The trickle effects go beyond the brick and mortar of the hospital.”
Caritas has said it “is engaged in constructive, ongoing discussions with the North Shore-LIJ Health System to explore the prospect of NS-LIJ acquiring the St. John’s facility following its probable closure, with the possibility of building a new hospital on that site. Caritas is also exploring whether NS-LIJ would be able to help provide transitional services in the interim.”
In the event of closure, they said, “Caritas is participating in a dialogue with the State Department of Health, community leaders and other Queens health care providers to ensure that current patients are properly cared for and accommodations are made at nearby hospitals and health centers for the additional patient load.”
However, officials at Elmhurst Hospital are worried about potentially handling the additional patients.
For example, “This past Tuesday, January 20,” said Dario L. Centorcelli, spokesperson, “there were 144 people at one time in the emergency room. In the hospital, we were at 101 percent capacity.
“This means that 30 [patients] were waiting for beds,” he continued. “We keep them in the ER, where they are well cared for, but it backs up the ER.”
St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals provide health care services to approximately 200,000 Queens residents annually, and employ 2,500 medical professionals and health services workers.
The Caritas Board of Directors is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, January 29.
Once a closure plan is submitted to the DOH, the law gives the agency 30 days for review, said Hutton.
- Additional reporting by Claudia Cruz