Department of Health Inaction Letter

June 15, 2012
To the Editor:

First and foremost, I want to thank the members of the Rockaway community who fought so hard to keep Peninsula Hospital open. To those who spoke up at a recent public hearing held by the New York State Department of Health (DOH): I heard your concerns loud and clear and I share your outrage. It is unacceptable that the DOH has opted not to ensure that local families have access to the critical health care they need.

Our community protested and rallied in the summer of 2011 to save our hospital, only to see it close a year later. Now, with limited access to quality, affordable health care, Southern Queens and Rockaway families are in a dangerous predicament.

Four hospitals in Queens have recently been shut down Ė Peninsula Hospital makes the fifth in just four years. The emergency room at Peninsula Hospital was a mere three-mile ambulance ride from Broad Channel. Peninsulaís closing has left St. Johnís as the only hospital on the Rockaway Peninsula, which is now forced to service 130,000 year-round residents, in addition to the influx of tourists, which travel to our area in the summer months. As a result, St. Johnís has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of emergency department patients since Peninsula Hospital closed.i The next closest medical facility to St. Johnís is in Brooklyn.

While I am very confident in the ability of St. Johnís to handle the influx of patients in the short term, quite frankly, they are overcrowded. In an emergency, an increase in patient volume or an extra 10-minute ambulance ride could mean the difference between life and death.

On June 12, a boy tragically drowned at a beach near 19th Street. The Rockaways have a high rate of drownings each year, with an average of at least one fatal drowning per year. Without a nearby emergency room, many more of these drownings could turn fatal.

Thus far, it seems that the DOH has failed to plan for an alternate means of addressing the health care crisis in the Rockaways. The health care needs of this geographically isolated peninsula are growing, as are the populations of Southern Queens and the Rockaways. The area is linked only by two bridges and Nassau County to the east Ė all of which have arteries that jam with traffic and could ensnare ambulances during moments when every second counts.

While the health of all of Queens residents are at risk, the families who are at the greatest disadvantage are those living on the west end of the Rockaway Peninsula. They would be forced to endure the longest commute to the hospital Ė a staggering 20 minutes and even longer during times of high traffic.

In light of this, as an immediate solution, it is critical that the Addabbo Health Center be given the opportunity to expand and provide quality health care services for the families of Rockaway, who now have to go without a nearby hospital. We are in desperate need of an urgent-care facility that can service the entire peninsula and give residents access to potentially life-saving emergency care.

The Addabbo Health Center is currently located in Rockaway and is among the top 5 percent of nationally ranked health care providers. It states that its mission is to become the leading preventive and comprehensive primary health care center in all of New York.ii

Further, I will continue my fight to ensure that Queens families have the quality and responsive care they deserve. That is why I am working with my partners in government in order to get St. Johnís Hospital the necessary funding they need, either through state or private investments, so that the may expand their emergency facility and hire more staff in order to handle the increase in patients. Currently, I am looking in different options in order to bring the kind of funding necessary to St. Johnís Hospital.

With decreased access to quality and affordable health care for the Southern Queens and Rockaway community, the health and safety of our families is in serious jeopardy, and the closure of Peninsula Hospital has left hundreds without jobs. By investing in St. Johnís, allowing the Addabbo Health Center to expand and by opening an urgent care facility we will be giving families of the Rockaways will have peace of mind and access to the quality health care they deserve. I strongly urge the DOH to respond to the questions posed at the public hearing and implement a real plan to keep our children and families safe.

Phil Goldfeder
Member of Assembly