Grant to help St. John’s Episcopal with patient overflow

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St. John’s Episcopal Hospital received a $5 million shot in the arm from the state, after the sudden closure of Peninsula Hospital left emergency health care in the Far Rockaway community strained, officials said.

A $5,357,680 grant will be awarded to St. John’s thanks to New York State’s Health Care Efficiency and Affordability Law (HEAL NY), said Nelson Toebbe, the hospital’s CEO.

“We are very pleased to have received notification of this significant HEAL grant,” Toebbe said. “It addresses important concerns of our community’s residents toward creating more immediate access to health care in our area since the closure of Peninsula Hospital, and of St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in its ongoing commitment to serving the community with quality care.”

Peninsula shuttered this April, leaving St. John’s the only hospital in Rockaway to serve more than 100,000 residents. Since the closure, St. John’s has had a 35 percent spike in patient visits to its emergency department, an approximate 11 percent increase in its inpatient volume and an 85 percent rise in its regular occupancy rates, said spokesperson Penny Chin.

The hospital’s emergency services were briefly diverted mid-May, as well as for an hour on the day Peninsula permanently closed in April, but Chin did not say whether St. John’s has experienced a diversion since then.

“St. John’s is attempting to provide care for 130,000 year-round residents, in addition to the influx of tourists that travel to our area in the summer months, and this can’t be adequately done without an increase in capacity,” said Assemblymember Phil Goldfeder, who said he was closely involved in negotiations between Governor Andrew Cuomo and state agencies to secure the funding. “It’s only the first step to getting the Rockaways back where it needs to be in relation to health care, but it’s a great, great first start.”

The award is part of the final round of grants under the state’s existing Medicaid 1115 Waiver, which expires March 31, 2014. Funds are allocated through the New York State Department of Health and the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York.

Officials said the grant would enable St. John’s to expand the hospital’s emergency department, which would include converting the inpatient space to outpatient and ambulatory care and creating an observation unit in the department.