In their response to Shah, Kennedy and Portnof wrote that at the request of the Health Department, LBMC had hired a consulting firm and submitted a “financially sound, clinically appropriate plan based upon the needs of the community” in March.
The plan, which included an assessment of the potential impact of a relationship with a larger institution, was rejected by the Health Department, modified based on the department’s feedback but then rejected again, the trustees wrote, because it included inpatient acute care services.
“Due to the isolation of the community, particularly during the summer months when traffic peaks and boat traffic frequently causes the draw bridges to delay access to the mainland, we feel strongly that our emergency department must receive 911 ambulances and be prepared to respond with the necessary clinical services,” they wrote, adding that a study undertaken by consultants concluded that a free-standing emergency room would lose money.
“It is unfair and impractical to burden any potential partner with that loss,” they wrote. “Instead, we proposed to downsize our beds from 162 to approximately 80 to provide limited, but needed inpatient services that would help offset the fixed costs connected with operating the emergency room. … Although healthcare economics pressure us to remain closed, the Long Beach geography requires us to reopen.”
Officials also took issue with Shah’s contention that the hospital is among the most financially distressed in New York, saying that it is among the highest-ranking hospitals in the state based on the percentage of patients that have Medicare or Medicaid.
Trustees further stated that they are engaged in a number of initiatives to improve care. “We acknowledge that more can be done and remain dedicated to enhancing quality of care,” they wrote.
Years of ‘bad blood’
A number of people with knowledge of the feud say it has been going on for years, but came to a head after Sandy. All agreed that the city needs an emergency department, but expressed concern about the hospital’s finances. “I don’t think it’s the state holding it up — it’s the board of trustees and South Nassau Communities Hospital dealing with the number of beds,” said one person who is involved in talks with the hospital board but who declined to be identified. “The only reason why a facility wants beds is because it profits from them. It all comes down to the money for the beds, and because the Health Department is stripping the hospital of beds because it underperforms, no other hospital wants to join with them. There’s a lot of bad blood between the state and LBMC, but it all comes down to money.”
SNCH spokesman Damian Becker said that talks are not focused on a merger, but rather “a new health care delivery model.” “Nothing has changed for us in terms of our discussion with Long Beach,” he said, “and we are working with them to make sure the Long Beach community has access to the healthcare services they need.”
Trustees said that they are not opposed to a merger, and wrote in their letter that they welcome a meeting with the Health Department. “We have already made it clear to the Department of Health that we are ready and willing to merge with a larger hospital or system due to the challenges of the rapidly changing healthcare environment, the financial pressures mounting on healthcare providers and the need for greater size and capacity to plan for the future,” they wrote.
State Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, a Long Beach resident, said that he is working to get both parties to reach a resolution, but an agreement is not yet close.
“This is not a legislative matter, but I want a hospital that is licensed by the Health Department that will meet the needs of the people of Long Beach,” Weisenberg said. “The state and SNCH are both offering resources that the hospital needs to function — millions of dollars that they are willing to put in — but the key thing is that they have to have an agreement with SNCH and work it out with the state Health Department.”
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