It’s been quite a while since the South Shore of Long Island was ravaged by Superstorm Sandy. Many homes have been restored, while others have been abandoned. Local beaches are pristine once again, and will be crowded throughout the summer months.
One of the casualties of the storm was the Long Beach Medical Center, which was overwhelmed by flooding. Regrettably, Long Beach and the surrounding barrier-island communities are still reckoning with the loss of medical services. Negotiations between the local civic group, Beach to Bay, and South Nassau Communities Hospital have dragged on with only minor success. The new emergency facility created by South Nassau is providing the basic services that the community needs and is professionally run. But it’s a far cry from what Long Beach is entitled to.
As the state assemblyman for Long Beach for 23 years and a former member of the medical center board, I am well acquainted with what the old facility offered the city. The hospital was in constant danger of failing for lack of good management, but residents of the barrier island were getting good medical care.
When you have a full-service hospital in your town, one of the benefits is that there are many doctors living locally, whose livelihood depends on the existence of that hospital. When Sandy shut it down, many of those doctors became affiliated with hospitals elsewhere and moved out of town. The lack of local doctors is now being used as an argument that the city should not get extensive medical care. But it’s a simple proposition that if a new and modern facility were built, doctors would come back.
The Long Beach of today is a far cry from the city I knew for so many years. Once considered a senior citizen community, it is now energized by many new and growing young families. They have changed the dynamic of the area, which now boasts many great restaurants and new stores. There’s a feeling of enthusiasm when you meet newly arrived residents and the empty-nesters who now fill the oceanfront high-rise buildings.
Despite the influx of new people, Long Beach still has a large number of nursing home beds, filled most often with many of the people who helped build the city. The last estimate is that there were at least 1,000 occupied beds. Those residents need the assurance of comprehensive medical services located nearby, as opposed to a time-sensitive ride to Oceanside. The proposal to give the city some new services didn’t go far enough for that population.
Following the storm, South Nassau Communities Hospital purchased the assets of the medical center. As the owner of the land, it is entitled to an estimated $130 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds that are to be used for medical care. SNCH has proposed modernizing its Oceanside facility, which was not damaged by Sandy, with part of those funds. The Long Beach emergency facility will get a portion of that money as well, but not nearly enough, given the fact that the medical center was the victim of the storm.
Over the next few weeks, FEMA will decide how that money will be distributed. Like all other bureaucracies, the agency knows little about the medical-service disaster that Long Beach has experienced. It relies on applications submitted to it by South Nassau, and there is no formal agency in Long Beach that can fight for a fairer share of the money.
This isn’t a war between Long Beach and a widely respected institution in Oceanside. South Nassau has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, and competently serves many people who live nowhere near the ocean. Nonetheless, it is entitled to a portion of the money the government is distributing, because it has spent a lot of its own money to provide medical services in Long Beach.
In the end, even if South Nassau gets access to all of the federal money, conscience and justice demands that it keep faith with the people of Long Beach by giving them the support that matches what the city is entitled to. Hopefully, that isn’t asking too much.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.