South Nassau Communities Hospital announced last week that it was awarded a $6.6 million state grant that will be used to open an urgent care facility at Long Beach Medical Center.
LBMC has been closed since Hurricane Sandy, and SNCH spokesman Damian Becker said that the center will provide some of the medical services that have been missing on the barrier island for the past 11 months.
The facility, to be run by South Nassau, will not include a 911-receiving emergency department, so ambulances will still have go elsewhere — and risk delays on bridges — in emergency situations, a main source of frustration among city officials and residents.
“This is a good step in the right direction for the residents of Long Beach, to give them more convenient access to the health care services they need,” Becker said. “Is it the absolute answer for them? I would say no, but it’s better than the present situation.”
The 162-bed hospital closed after 10 feet of water flooded its basement during Sandy, causing $56 million in damage. All of the major work to allow two wings to open, including the emergency department, was completed in June.
But the state Department of Health blocked the facility from reopening, after Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah said that LBMC, which had lost more than $2 million per year since 2008, had failed to produce a sustainable health care business plan that would meet the needs of the Long Beach community. The state called on the hospital to close its acute care service and merge with SNCH, saying that it should function as a freestanding emergency department with urgent care and primary care services.
State grant funding for the urgent care center is part of a separate effort to restore services in Long Beach, Becker explained, adding that negotiations among LBMC, the state Health Department and South Nassau are continuing — and still include the possibility of a merger.
“Long Beach Medical Center and South Nassau Communities Hospitals have been in negotiations to effect a merger of the institutions consistent with the objectives of the New York State Department of Health,” LBMC spokeswoman Sharon Player said in a statement. “Long Beach Medical Center has been working with South Nassau Communities Hospital toward the opening of an urgent care center on its campus as a first phase of re-establishing other services, including a 911-receiving emergency room in Long Beach, consistent with a memorandum of understanding executed by both institutions.”
The $6.6 million awarded to SNCH to run the facility is provided by the federal Superstorm Sandy Social Services Block Grant, which is designed to cover unreimbursed expenses resulting from the storm, including health and mental health services for individuals and the repair of health care and social services facilities. On Oct. 10, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that more than 450 organizations in the state would receive a total of $200 million thanks to this grant.
“Nearly one year after Superstorm Sandy hit New York, the state’s health care and human service providers continue to serve communities recovering from the storm, even while many of these organizations themselves are still getting back on their feet,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This funding will help providers cover significant costs resulting from the storm …”
The SNCH grant will provide support for staff, clinical services, equipment, supplies and other expenses needed to open and operate the facility, which will have 12 exam rooms and provide treatment for a wide array of medical conditions, according to an SNCH statement. Care will be provided on a walk-in basis, with no appointments required. Patients who are found to be in need of further emergency care or hospitalization will be transported to SNCH or the hospital of their choice via on-site ambulance services, the statement said.
The fact that the urgent care center will not accept emergency cases may continue to frustrate many Long Beach residents, who say that is the most important service for the barrier island. Since Sandy, emergency patients have been taken to Nassau University Medical Center, SNCH or other area facilities. But many city officials complain that the trip takes too long — a Long Beach ambulance may not return for 90 minutes — which not only puts patients at risk, but strains the city’s resources.
“The urgent care facility is a good first step toward restoring hospital services in Long Beach, and we are happy to see the relationship with South Nassau moving forward,” said City Council President Scott Mandel. “But our priority is, and must remain, immediately restoring full 911-receiving emergency services to accept our ambulances. We will continue to aggressively advocate for that as well as reopening the hospital facility and bringing back much-needed jobs for our Long Beach residents.”
Becker said it was too early to say when the center would open, or whether LBMC employees who remain furloughed would be hired to staff it. “We’ll start setting the wheels in motion, and working with LBMC,” he said. “We’ll walk in there and see what’s available and what they have. It really depends on things like equipment needed, how long it takes to hire people, physical renovations and other things that need to be done.”