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S.O.S. to Dave - Hope for hospital reprieve

Bay Ridge is buzzing with the possibility that a new governor will bring fresh hope for Victory Memorial Hospital. One hundred and sixty miles away in Albany David Paterson was being sworn in as the state’s 55th governor. Meantime in Brooklyn, hospital supporters tried to digest the dramatic turn of events and what it may mean for the beleaguered facility. “I hear nothing but good things about Paterson and I hope he can turn things around,” said Dr. Simon Saada, Victory Memorial’s Director of Surgery, in a phone interview with this newspaper. Dr. Saada said he was meeting with “political people” Monday afternoon to discuss two proposals for the hospital and how to proceed in the wake of Spitzer’s resignation. Dr. Saada described Paterson as “workable” and said the change of leadership in Albany made Victory’s outlook “much better.” Jerry Kassar, State Senator Marty Golden’s Chief of Staff, spoke about the Spitzer downfall and what it may mean for Victory at the recent monthly meeting of the Dyker Heights Civic Association. “The Spitzer administration has been opposed to it,” Kassar said, referring to efforts to maintain an emergency room at the Victory site. “But there’s been a change. It’s being readdressed.” But Bill Guarinello, chair of the Victory Memorial board of trustees, seemed to dismiss the possibility that Spitzer’s resignation could breathe new life into Victory. “I think it’s too little, too late,” Guarinello said. “I think if this had happened three months ago, things would have been tremendously better. I can’t see things turning around overnight, but I guess anything is possible.” Rep. Vito Fossella, who has fought to save the hospital, appeared more optimistic. "Governor Spitzer repeatedly turned a deaf ear to our pleas to save the emergency room at Victory Hospital. I hope a new Governor also represents a new opportunity for Albany to do the right thing for southwest Brooklyn,” Fossella said. “We’ve already seen Albany change the rules of the game to allow an ER to remain open at Dobbs Ferry. Now is not a time for more excuses from Albany,” Fossella said. City Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who is among those battling to save the ER, said he placed a called into Paterson’s office before Paterson was even sworn in as the new governor. “I want to explain to him what it would mean for the community to lose this emergency room,” Gentile said. “The timing is very sensitive,” Gentile added. “We’ve got to give the new governor time to settle in, but at the same time the Victory process is going forward.” Indeed, the clock is ticking for Victory Memorial Hospital. The physical building is set to go to auction on March 30. Sources say four medical entities are set to bid on the property. Holy Family Home has placed the leading, so-called “stalking horse” bid for $40 million. However, the fate of Victory’s emergency room remains unknown should Holy Family become the successful bidder. State officials rejected an earlier proposal for SUNY Downstate to run an emergency room at the site. Unlike a traditional auction where the successful bidder is simply the highest bidder, the March 31 auction will be a complicated series of legal maneuverings. Guarinello explained that there would be “back and forth” between the board of trustees and the creditors. Any sale would also need the approval of the bankruptcy court. Victory Memorial is about $90 million in debt and bankrupt. In 2006 Victory was slated for closure by the Berger Commission, a state panel charged with saving tax dollars by reducing the number of empty hospital beds. Under Berger, the hospital must close by June 30, 2008. Recently, it was feared the ER would close early when the state’s Dormitory Authority held up a $1.2 million loan. They have since agreed to release the money. If Victory closes, patients would be diverted to neighboring hospitals, including Lutheran and Maimonides Medical Centers. Those opposed to closing Victory say these facilities are already overburdened. Meantime, Victory Memorial continues to treat patients. Dr Saada, Director of Surgery, said that last week Victory Memorial was forced to go on diversion on two separate days. Its emergency room reached capacity and all 70 remaining acute care beds were full, he said. “This is a very serious matter,” Dr Saada said. “What if Maimonides or Lutheran went on diversion and Victory was closed—where would these patients go?”

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