Mary Immaculate celebrates 100th anniversary

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Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a $3 million present to itself and the community: an expanded and renovated emergency room.

The hospital, which was opened across from Rufus King Park at 153rd Street and 89th Avenue in 1902, is unveiling its new emergency facilities, featuring more space, a second X-Ray suite, decontamination showers and three isolation rooms, said Dr. Ira Mehlman, director of emergency medicine.

The hospital, part of the St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, was founded in 1902 by the sisters of St. Dominic Congregation of the Holy Cross Amityville, who tended to the sick in a 10-bed rented house. The beds were filled within the first week, and the sisters moved into the attic to free up a few more beds as they looked for ways to expand.

In 1904, a second building opened on the hospital’s campus with 20 beds, but plans were already in the works for a larger facility. As Jamaica’s population grew from 6,500 to 65,000 people between 1900 and 1920, the hospital expanded to meet the demands, opening a 90-bed building in 1904 and a 300-bed facility in 1929.

The hospital continued adding services in the ‘60s and ‘70s, including an auditorium and a garage, and in 1979 patients were moved from open wards to semi-private and private rooms.

The emergencey department last got a face-lift in the early 1990s. The emergency room is a Level 1 trauma center, meaning the hospital can treat the most severely injured patients, said Juliet Lewis, spokeswoman for Mary Immaculate.

“We have a great staff that can treat about any emergency,” she said. “We do get some of the worst cases.”

The new and improved emergency room features an additional 3,000 square feet of space, Mehlman said. The hospital used an empty lot along 153rd Street to expand, he said.

“When you are in the middle of New York City, it’s not easy to find space you can expand into,” Mehlman said. “The flow and the physical plan will make it physically better to access trauma services and decrease congestion in the department.”

The emergency room received a new X-Ray suite, allowing doctors to get results back quicker, Mehlman said. The triage area, where patients first see a nurse, the nursing station and the security areas were also renovated, he said.

“This is a very stressful place with a high burnout rate,” Mehlman said. “We want to make this a better place so that our providers — our doctors and nurses — are hopefully happier, which makes the care better.”

And located just a few miles from Kennedy Airport, Mary Immaculate is prepared to treat patients from emergencies there, including terrorist attacks, SARS and more, Mehlman said. The hospital has three decontamination showers outside the main entrance, where patients can have a measure of privacy while they undress and go through the cleaning process before entering the hospital, he said.

“That way we don’t contaminate the department, which could lead to closing down the facility,” Mehlman said.

The $3 million renovations also include three negative-pressure isolation rooms, where contaminated air is pulled out of the room and filtered, rather than pumping clean air in, he said.

“The fact that we have these isolation rooms comes in handy,” Lewis said. “We’ve already had several suspected cases of SARS brought to Mary Immaculate Hospital from the airport. We were ready.”

The renovations will help the hospital run smoother and treat more patients, Mehlman said.

“The majority of our patients in the hospital come through the emergency room,” he said. This is a big gateway to medical care for many of them. The concept of expanding the ER was to help resolve bottle necks there.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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