Today’s news:

St. Joseph’s clinic won’t be relocated

Due to a decrease in patients, St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers announced last week that it was not worth moving St. Joseph's ambulatory clinic to a local facility because its limited client base would not justify spending the $425,000 it would cost to build a new office.Instead, those patients will be redirected to St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers' two other Queens hospitals, Mary Immaculate in Jamaica and St. John's in Elmhurst."It was our intention to keep it in the community, but as a result of the visits dropping, it was just not able to sustain itself," St. Joseph's spokeswoman Juliet Lewis said, adding that only 370 patients came in during the month of January."That's pretty low," she said.Pat Wardell, interim director of St. Joseph's, said the clinic was seeing as many as 500 to 700 patients a month in the summer. But since the emergency room closed last year, patients have not been redirected for follow-up visits to the ambulatory care center as was procedure when the ER was operating."We realize that we cannot operate a freestanding clinic with such low numbers," she said.St. Vincent Catholic Medical Center sent a letter to the city's Department of Health requesting the April 1 closure of the ambulatory care center Friday."The plan is to let our patients know that we would like to continue to provide their medical care," Wardell said.St. Vincent Catholic Medical Center has bolstered its other Queens hospitals in the wake of closing St. Joseph's."We moved the wound care program to Mary Immaculate Hospital with the hyperbaric chambers," Lewis said. "We moved the ambulatory surgical services to St. John's. We're building up strengthening our other hospitals."But not all agencies agree that St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers hospitals are benefitting from the closure of St. Joseph's. An article in Crain's New York business magazine last month said Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica should shut down in order to make health care more efficient in New York City.Mary Immaculate officials took issue with the article's statement, contending that it broke even last year.St. Vincent Catholic Medical Center has been struggling with how to cut costs systemwide since it sustained $68 million in operating losses in 2003. It downsized St. Joseph's hospital by cutting nurses in the fall of 2003 before formally looking for a new operator for the facility later that year and then, when that search was unsuccessful, announced plans to close in 2004.The termination of plans for an ambulatory care center came as a surprise to Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), who actively lobbied against St. Joseph's closing last year."I'm disappointed and the community wants to know why they're being relocated," he said. "I don't know what is driving this. I need a full explanation of what is the reason why this has to happen. We want the clinic."Gennaro said he never expected St. Vincent Medical Center to pull its plans for a walk-in clinic in the Flushing and Fresh Meadows community."The whole idea was to relocate ambulatory services in the community - that was the deal," he said. "I am going to be meeting with St. Vincent's, I'm going to do everything in my power to get them to change their minds."Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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