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Aquino pushes Paterson to reopen Parkway

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Robert Aquino, the former chief executive officer of the now-defunct Parkway Hospital, sent a letter last week to the state health commissioner in an effort to pressure the state to reopen the Forest Hills medical center, which he said would strengthen health care in a borough hit hard by the closure of three major hospitals and add more than 1,000 jobs.

“We felt that before Gov. David Paterson leaves, he could do something to help Queens,” Aquino said in an interview. “We’re following the emergency room times in Queens, and they’re getting worse and worse and worse. Maybe Gov. Paterson could in the 11th hour call the commissioner and say there is a disaster in Queens and we need to do something about it.”

Aquino said he sent the Dec. 3 letter to Health Commissioner Richard Daines because he worried that if state officials did not act to reopen Parkway now, it would be months before Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo would have the time to address the issue.

The state Department of Health closed Parkway in November 2008 based on recommendations by the state Berger Commission, which had concluded Parkway should close because the area had too many empty hospital beds — a statement contested by Aquino, Borough President Helen Marshall and a number of borough politicians who have said Queens is severely under-bedded.

In March 2009 St. John’s in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate in Jamaica shut their doors, costing Queens 862 lost beds when combined with the Parkway closing.

The DOH could not be reached for comment.

Aquino said the Berger Commission did not take into consideration the two later hospital closures in its decision to shutter Parkway. St. John’s and Mary Immaculate closed because their parent company, Caritas Healthcare, was about $100 million in debt and failed to emerge from bankruptcy. Marshall has noted that the borough already had too few beds years before the three hospitals were shuttered.

“Queens is short 1,000 beds,” Aquino said. “We’ve been keeping track unofficially on how long people are waiting in emergency rooms, and times go up and up and up because there are no beds available.”

Aquino said that if the state DOH gave Parkway a license to operate, he could reopen the hospital in less than four months. He said the hospital itself would employ about 1,000 people and he expects there to be another 500 peripheral jobs created.

There is currently a wound care clinic operating in the hospital, which Aquino said he is paying “a fortune” to keep open.

“We have a private group of investors who would invest in the property to get it open again,” Aquino said.

He would not specify the name of the investors’ group.

“The Department of Health would just have to give us the license,” he said. “I don’t need money from them. I don’t need staff. The doctors, the nurses would come immediately. They’re all out of work. Half my staff calls me every week and asks if we’re opening.”

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

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