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Queens Hospital Center braces for loss of docs, care

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Queens Hospital Center in Jamaica faces losing physicians and a decrease in services because of the city Health and Hospital Corp.’s projected $1 billion operating loss, Community Board 8 officials said last week.

“That $1 billion affects not only Queens Hospital Center, but every hospital in Queens because there will be drastic cuts,” said Bernard Diamond, a CB 8 member who sits on Queens Hospital Center’s executive board. “At Queens Hospital Center, there’s going to be major and drastic repercussions. I foresee significantly reduced access to care and an increased waiting time to see physicians because of the lack of physicians.”

An increase in the number of uninsured residents seeking help from HHC venues, including Queens Hospital Center, has in part driven the system into the red, the group announced in late February. According to HHC officials, the system’s expenses will exceed its revenues by more than $1 billion in the fiscal year that begins this July.

Community Board 8 officials said they do not expect Queens Hospital Center to close but to be severely limited by budget constraints.

The number of patients without health care seeking help from HHC hospitals grew to nearly 453,000 citywide in 2009, a 14 percent increase over the 396,000 patients who lacked insurance in 2006, the officials said.

HHC’s financial situation is further complicated because the vast majority of individuals with insurance at HHC sites are covered by Medicaid. The city system has received more than $240 million less in annual Medicaid revenue due to three successive years of state budget cuts, and it faces another cut of $70 million in health care funding in Gov. David Paterson’s proposal, city officials said.

“The economic downturn has increased dramatically the number of uninsured patients seeking our services,” HHC President Alan D. Aviles said. “While our commitment to provide the best care possible to individuals and families without reliable access to health care remains as strong as ever, rising costs and repeated Medicaid cuts now seriously threaten our capacity to fulfill our mission.”

This is bad news for Queens, CB 8 members said, since borough hospitals are already under immense pressure after St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals closed last February. St. John’s in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate in Jamaica shut their doors after Caritas Healthcare, their parent company mired in $100 million in debt, filed for bankruptcy.

Parkway Hospital in Forest Hills was shut down by the state Health Department in November 2008. The loss of 600 hospital beds from the Forest Hills, Jamaica and Elmhurst institutions left area hospitals, particularly emergency rooms, bursting at the seams and populations in southeast and central Queens vulnerable with little access to health facilities, Borough President Helen Marshall and state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) have said.

Queens Hospital Center’s emergency room, for example, is often operating at 200 percent of capacity, Diamond said.

“We’re going to be in a crisis for some time,” said Kevin Forrestal, a CB 8 member.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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