St. Joseph’s set to close in Flushing

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“The hospital system is...

By Cynthia Koons

Months of rumors about the potential closing of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Flushing became a reality last week when St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers announced plans to shut the doors of its Northeast Queens facility for good.

“The hospital system is really in financial crisis,” said Michael Fagan, a spokesman for St. Vincent’s. “We looked at a $68 million loss last year from operations (at St. Joseph’s Hospital) — those are losses we cannot sustain.”

St. Joseph’s Hospital has been on the brink of extinction since last fall when it reduced its staff due to a decrease in the use of patient beds, hospital officials said. Hospital census numbers indicated that only 75 of the 100 beds were being used regularly.

St. Joseph’s Hospital, located at 158-40 79th Ave. in Flushing, is a comprehensive health care facility that houses a 24-hour emergency department, a psychiatric unit, cancer care, an HIV center and wound care services.

Since the layoffs, St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, which has run the hospital since 2000, announced it was actively seeking another operator for St. Joseph’s. The closing of the hospital, Fagan said, signals the end to that search.

“Nobody really was interested in keeping the facility as a hospital,” Fagan said. “It didn’t seem like there was anybody that wanted to keep it open viably as a hospital for the community.”

According to St. Vincent’s estimates, it would cost $40 million to retrofit the hospital and upgrade its facilities to modern standards.

Hospital and community leaders met Tuesday night to announce their intention to pressure the Sisters of Charity, the board that oversees the directors of St. Vincent Medical Center, into keeping the facility open.

The area’s councilman, James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), said he needs further proof to believe St. Joseph’s is not worth saving.

“I want to see the analysis on this on why this could not be maintained as a hospital facility,” Gennaro said. “We want to see the justification. We want to see the numbers.”

He said it was suspicious that St. Vincent’s has only just announced that it was not economical to modernize the hospital.

“St. Vincent’s has made a determination, but we in the community and I as a representative of the community are not accepting of this determination without full justificat­ion,” Gennaro said.

Pat Wardell, the senior vice president of the Brooklyn and Queens branches of St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, said the parent company is looking at ways to maintain some of St. Joseph’s services either at the site of the current facility or in the vicinity of the hospital. He said residents should not expect the hospital to be closed for at least a year.

Wardell was interim director of St. Joseph’s after the former executive director, Ron Weingartner, stepped down in December. Weingartner was the second director to resign from the hospital in the past year. Gerard Connolly is the current director of the facility.

“What we’re looking at is a phased closure of the facility with in-patient beds closing first,” Fagan said. “We’re looking at moving out-patient services to Mary Immaculate, St. John’s in Queens.”

St. Vincent’s is the parent company of Mary Immaculate in Jamaica and St. John’s hospitals in Elmhurst and four other facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Westchester.

It announced the closure of Bayley Seton Hospital in Staten Island within the past year as well.

Fagan said St. Vincent’s plans to strengthen the services at Mary Immaculate and St. John’s in order to draw more patients to those facilities.

“It’s impossible with a limited amount of resources to invest in three hospitals (in Queens),” he said.

A specific plan for improvements to Mary Immaculate and St. John’s has not yet been offered.

Wardell said St. Joseph’s Hospital houses facilities for podiatry, ophthalmology, primary care, psychiatric and acute care services.

“The idea was to really hold onto those ambulatory things that are of service to the community,” Wardell said. Ambulatory services are those that do not require patients to stay overnight in the hospital.

St. Joseph’s was built in 1984, under the name Hillcrest General Hospital. When Catholic Medical Centers of Brooklyn and Queens merged with St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, St. Joseph’s fell under St. Vincent’s umbrella.

“Its original design was a small proprietary hospital with one bathroom shared by many patients,” Wardell said. “That’s what gets in the way of anyone being able to step up and give this another try.

“Many, many hospitals are having serious financial difficulties because of changes in reimbursem­ent,” he said. “It’s just the plight of hospitals in general. It would require such significant investment that it is unaffordable to anyone.”

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

Updated 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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