Hundreds of people crowded the sixth floor of City Hall on Monday, calling on representatives of South Nassau Communities Hospital and the state Department of Health to fully invest $154 million in federal funding for health care services in Long Beach — and reopen a hospital that will meet the needs of the community.
Among the many speakers were the hosts of the forum, State Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky and the City Council, as well as former Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, County Legislator Denise Ford, members of the Beach to Bay Central Council Civic Association and other groups, school and fire officials, local clergy, and even champion boxer Seanie Monaghan.
Nearly 50 people spoke at a meeting that occasionally grew charged and emotional, and all seemed to agree that $154 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds — allocated to South Nassau after it acquired the Hurricane Sandy-shuttered Long Beach Medical Center — should be invested in Long Beach, and not to expand services at South Nassau’s Oceanside campus.
Most called for nothing short of the reopening of a full-service hospital, citing increased travel times and bridge delays when patients are transported to South Nassau. Some speakers also noted the emotional stress the hospital’s closure has added to their lives since the storm and the economic impact it has had on the community.
“The hospital was closed without a hearing or any public input,” Kaminsky said. “We’ve been presented with an opportunity — there’s a large pot of money, and South Nassau is making decisions on how to use it. They’re using studies and consultants, but there’s one thing that’s missing — your voice.”
While the meeting was the town hall-style forum many had been calling for — and one that, according to Kaminsky, is required by law following the closure of a hospital — many questioned why it took the state so long to come to Long Beach.
“Where have you been for the last two years?” asked resident Ronnie Miles.
LBMC closed after 10 feet of water flooded its basement during Sandy. In June 2013, officials said it had all major work done to allow two wings to reopen, including the emergency department. But the state Health Department refused to allow the facility to reopen, and called for LBMC to merge with another hospital. The state health commissioner at the time, Dr. Nirav Shah, cited the hospital’s poor financial management as a major factor in his decision.
The plans for Long Beach
South Nassau acquired LBMC last October after it had filed for bankruptcy, and last month SNCH announced a plan to build a two-story, 30,000-square-foot emergency department and Medical Arts Pavilion on the LBMC property, a $30 million to $40 million project.
South Nassau President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Murphy said the Health Department helped facilitate what he described as a long and complex legal negotiation, and provided South Nassau with more than $30 million in grant funding as part of the transition process.
“We’ve had all of about five or six months to really look at this in any depth,” Murphy said. “Somebody asked why we didn’t start planning two years ago. We weren’t going to start planning if we didn’t have physical ownership of the assets. Had the Health Department not stepped forward … you might have seen this facility sold off for condominiums.”
South Nassau’s proposed complex would have an emergency room that would operate 24 hours a day and receive 911 calls. If it is approved, construction is expected to take 18 to 24 months.
Though the new pavilion would not operate as a full-fledged hospital, officials maintain that it would be capable of stabilizing and treating patients before transferring them to another hospital. The Medical Arts Pavilion would include other services such as a diagnostic imaging suite with CT-scan MRI and X-ray capabilities. The new structure could also potentially provide family medicine, behavioral health services, dialysis, ambulatory surgery and other services. South Nassau has commissioned a study to determine which services are most needed.