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As Brooklyn hospitals close and merge, open hospitals struggle, too

As some Brooklyn hospitals face closure and downsizing — as currently being seen at Long Island College Hospital (LICH) and Interfaith Medical Center — others, from Brooklyn Hospital in Fort Greene down down to Lutheran Hospital in Sunset Park and Coney Island Hospital, are remaining open, left to cope with overcrowding, and in some cases, a lack of sufficient funds.

Bill Guarinello, the chairman of Bensonhurst’s Community Board 11, told board meeting attendees last week that following Victory Memorial Hospital’s closure in 2010 and Coney Island Hospital’s temporary shut-down following Hurricane Sandy, the number of patients coming to other area hospitals for care has spiked up.

Compared to this time last year, the number of patients has increased from 7,300 to 9,100 at Maimonides, from 3,200 to 4,300 at Lutheran, and doubled from 1,800 to 3,600 at Beth Israel Kings Highway Hospital. Now that the SUNY Board of Trustees voted to close LICH, Guarinello said matters would probably only become worse at these hospitals.

“If all of our people, from almost Fort Greene around, all the way out probably past Sheepshead Bay, they’re going to Maimonides, they’re going to Lutheran, and now what do you think is going to happen when LICH closes?” asked Guarinello, who used to serve on the board of trustees for Victory. “You think they’re going to stay the same? It’s going to go up. I mean, when are we going to say, enough is enough?”

Coney Island Hospital’s temporary closure did have an impact on Maimonides, according to Jodi Cross, a media relations specialist at the hospital.

“We have seen more patients in the ER since Hurricane Sandy,” Cross said.

But she noted that it would be too soon to tell how a LICH closure would impact Maimonides, noting that it is “just speculation.”

Similarly, Mark J. Mundy, president and CEO at New York Methodist Hospital — which is the second-closest hospital to LICH, being 2.5 miles of avenues, expressway and canal away — said that LICH “is still open and caring for patients [as it has done] for so many years,” and that NY Methodist “will respond to the situation as it evolves and will be supportive in any way we can.”

Should the 155-year-old hospital indeed close, then the Brooklyn Hospital Center would be the next closest alternative  — despite being 1.5 miles away — and “should be able to accommodate a significant portion of LICH volume” if necessary, said Catherine Derr, vice president of marketing and communications.

Wendy Goldstein, the president and CEO, and Claudia Caine, EVP/COO and hospital director for Lutheran HealthCare, told the New York State Standing Committee on Health at its Feb. 8 hearing that the hurricane had deeply affected their hospital.

“Hurricane Sandy has put an enormous strain on the already frail health care providers in Brooklyn,” Goldstein and Caine said, according to a copy of their testimony from the hearing. “I want to take one moment to acknowledge the efforts of my colleagues and staff at Lutheran who worked tirelessly, without relief, to absorb the enormous volume of patients – which, at the height of the crisis, doubled the number of patients seeking care in our Level I Trauma Center.”

That’s not the worst problem for Lutheran, though.

Although Goldstein and Caine said in the testimony that Lutheran is not at the risk of collapse, it will have absorbed $44 million in cuts to its income levels between 2009 and 2013.

“Unless you understand the unique issues facing the true safety net hospitals and unless you are willing to take concrete steps to protect them, we will end up in the exact position in which Interfaith, Brookdale, Victory Memorial and LICH have found themselves,” they said in their testimony. “To assume that we can sit back and continue to absorb the kinds of cuts being imposed is to pretend that the cancer we cannot see will not kill us.”

Twenty-four hour clinics such as SUNY Downstate’s urgent care location at Victory Memorial’s old site put a Band-Aid on the problem, but they cannot do the job of hospitals and handle emergencies, experts stress.

“When care requires intensive care units, operating rooms, trauma centers, cardiac surgery, cancer treatment, stroke intervention, hip replacements and on and on and on, we turn to our hospitals,” Goldstein and Caine said in the testimony. “And in Brooklyn, we are at impending risk of finding them submerged. Brooklyn cannot be safe and dry without making sure that there are adequate numbers of hospital and nursing home beds. With several hospitals in, or on the verge of, bankruptcy, this borough faces an imminent and very real risk of not having a safety net to protect us in this storm.”

Brooklyn’s hospitals are also struggling because many borough residents choose to go to Manhattan for treatment, Guarinello said.

“People go to the city, because, first of all, it’s a little less of a wait time,” he said. “If you go to the ones in the city, maybe you’re fully out in eight or nine or 10 hours. In eight hours here [in Brooklyn], we’ll finally get you for the cat-scan, or we’ll finally get you for the X-ray.”

Assemblymember Peter Abbate, also present at the community board meeting, said that some Brooklynites seem to have it ingrained that “if we go to Mount Sinai and NYU we’re going to get better coverage.

“So the money is going there,” he added.

But Abbate thinks differently, noting that he contacted the State Department of Health, expressing the value of Brooklyn hospitals.

“[Brooklyn hospitals] all stayed open during the hurricane,” Abbate said. “NYU Langone closed. Why don’t we close that and put the money in the Brooklyn hospitals? That’s exactly what I told them. [NYU Langone is] right off the FDR and is going to get flooded again. Put the money here.”

The State Department of Health did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.

Reporting contributed by Heather J. Chin.

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