As Hospitals Face Pressure, Six in Brooklyn Could Close

With 15 hospital closings in the past decade, and six more in Brooklyn on shaky ground, New York’s healthcare system is caught between balancing the budget and providing the medicine people need.

From left, Long Island College Hospital, Brooklyn Hospital Center and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, all of which state officials have said could close or merge. (Jim Henderson, Freshpond, youngking11)/ City Limits

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If you want to do Regina Green’s job at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, you’d better put on your running shoes. For the past 16 years, Green has worked as a lab technician in the hospital’s pediatric clinic, drawing blood, soothing nerves, running tests and logging results. The only lab technician for the entire clinic—a big, brightly painted room with bench seating, a snack cart and cartoon animals cavorting on the walls—Green toggles so seamlessly between greeting patients and doing blood work that you have to remind yourself she is working for 20 doctors, who may see between 70 and 90 patients a day.

“It’s crazy,” says Green, whose infectious smile, and sparkling eyes belie a slight limp and the use of a cane when she walks. Since Mary Immaculate Hospital in South Jamaica and St. John’s Queens Hospital in Elmhurst closed in 2009, the uptick in patient volume, particularly of those who are uninsured, has been staggering. “We have 50 percent more patients,” says Green. “They come from all over.”

Three years ago, then New York City Comptroller William Thompson warned the state Department of Health that Queens was on the brink of a crisis – the closing of St. John’s and Mary Immaculate and the near simultaneous emergence of the H1N1 virus were jeopardizing the ability of the borough’s remaining hospitals to provide quality care. And the problem was only going to get worse. “New York City is losing primary care at an alarming rate,” warned the former comptroller in a citywide health alert. “Since hospital outpatient departments represent a significant portion of the city’s primary care capacity,” the continued closure of New York City emergency rooms “has markedly reduced capacity.”

Flash forward to the present: three more hospitals have closed since 2009—one, Peninsula Hospital Center in Rockaway, Queens, just this year. Six more hospitals, all in Brooklyn, are currently on shaky ground.

None of this spells good news for low-income families and the working poor. When neighborhood hospitals close, it creates a domino effect, says Alyssa Aguilera, a health care advocate for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. Families who once relied on hospital clinics for their care move to the next closest hospital, creating longer waits and endemic overcrowding. Care is disrupted, health records are lost, and patients become confused.

Under a plan now under consideration by the state Department of Health, six Brooklyn hospitals, all of them private, are being considered for merger or closure. If these hospitals are closed or consolidated, patients could be pushed into the public hospitals, overloading a system that is “already bursting at the seams,” says Aguilera. “There’s definitely the potential for a really negative outcome.”

To read the rest of this story, check it out on The Brooklyn Bureau.

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Tags: infrastructurehealthcarebrooklyn

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