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Weiner scores Paterson for Immac, St. John’s shutdowns

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) said the Queens congressional delegation battled to secure stimulus funding that he wanted to be used to keep St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals open, but Gov. David Paterson did not direct the money to Queens’ health care institutions.

“We fought very hard with the stimulus bill to help save those hospitals, and it was not used for that,” Weiner said during an interview with TimesLedger Newspapers staff last Thursday.

Weiner, along with other members of Congress, worked to include the funds meant for the hospitals in the stimulus bill the House passed Jan. 28. The Senate passed its bill Feb. 10, and President Barack Obama signed it into law Feb. 17. St. John’s and Mary Immaculate closed at the end of February.

In less than one year, Queens has lost three hospitals: St. John’s in Elmhurst, Mary Immaculate in Jamaica and Parkway in Forest Hills. While Weiner said he wanted to see Parkway remain open, “clear problems of management” shuttered the hospital that is now suing the state to reopen.

St. John’s and Mary Immaculate had their own set of problems, including Caritas Healthcare, the hospitals’ parent company, being deeply mired in more than $40 million in debt. Still, Weiner said the closures might have been avoided had Paterson used the stimulus money for the hospitals as the congressman had hoped.

Paterson’s office did not return a phone call for comment.

During the interview, the congressman focused on his recent efforts to rally support around his single-payer health care plan that has garnered support among more liberal Democrats but not among many moderate and conservative members of Congress.

Weiner has put forward a plan that would eliminate private insurance, arguing such government-run health care programs as Medicare and Medicaid have been more efficiently run than their private counterparts.

“The opponents of the Obama plan say how can private insurance compete with a public plan?” Weiner said. “They believe it would squash private insurance companies. They agree a public plan would cost less and be less bureaucratic. They agree with the Weiner plan.”

Obama has proposed that Americans must be insured similar to the way drivers are required to purchase car insurance. Individuals could retain their private health insurance or have the option to join a government-run insurance group, otherwise known as the public option, which the president has said would drive down health care costs and force insurance companies to provide more competitive and affordable prices.

The national debate over health care has proved especially controversial this summer, with some Americans screaming at legislators holding town hall-style meetings throughout the country on the issue. While Weiner has not had the type of run-ins that Obama and some other legislators have had, he has faced upset residents.

“There has been visceral anger, which is generated by a misinformation campaign,” Weiner said.

Despite the outbursts at town hall meetings, the majority of Americans want health care reform, according to a poll conducted by CNN at the end of August.

Weiner told TimesLedger he has not yet decided who he will vote for in the six-way Democratic primary Sept. 15. Weiner, who lives in Forest Hills, paid compliments to all the candidates, including his former staffer Mel Gagarin, Heidi Harrison Chain, Albert Cohen, Michael Cohen, Karen Koslowitz and Lynn Schulman.

While the congressman did not say he has definite plans to run for mayor again in 2013, he did say holding the city’s highest seat is “the only job in politics I’d rather have than the one I have now.”

“Who knows what’s going to happen,” Weiner said of the 2013 race. “Maybe the mayor will be running for a fourth term.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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