Knight in white coat may save St. Joseph’s Hospital

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This came a week after St. Joseph's officials said Aquino's interest in buying the hospital was not substantial enough to keep St. Vincent Medical Centers from shutting the Flushing facility.

But on the same day the hospital's official plans for closing appeared in local newspapers, Aquino and Frank Mazzagatti, the president and executive vice president of Parkway Hospital, overnighted a letter to the Department of Health commissioner expressing their interest in maintaining St. Joseph's.

"As managers of the Parkway Hospital, a 251-bed hospital located in Forest Hills, N.Y., (we are allowed) to express our interest in welcoming an opportunity to participate in discussions regarding the future of St. Joseph's Hospital," the letter, signed by both men and obtained by the TimesLedger Newspapers, said. "As part of our community needs assessment, we believe that it might be to the advantage of St. Joseph's Hospital and its catchment community for that facility to be incorporated into the integrated health care delivery system established by Dr. Aquino."

Aquino serves as chief executive officer, president and owner of Capitol Health Management Inc., a consulting group in Long Island City; Boro Medical PC, a professional corporation in Astoria; and Boulevard Surgical Center, an ambulatory surgery center in Long Island City. He is also a former president of the Queens County Medical Society.

Community members who were opposed to the sale of St. Joseph's said in early July that Aquino might be interested in purchasing St. Joseph's, at 158-40 79th Ave. He bought Parkway Hospital in Forest Hills for $23 million within the past two weeks.

But the owners of St. Joseph's, St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, said they thought the letter from Aquino and Mazzagatti did not definitively mean they were interested in buying the Flushing hospital.

"In that letter, all it indicates is they're interested in participating in discussions," St. Vincent spokeswoman Bernadette Kingham said. "We're open to discussions, but we need to move beyond the last couple of months."

She said Aquino expressed interest in purchasing the hospital but never agreed to finance it.

"We need to know that they have financing and they're seriously interested in making an offer for the hospital," she said.

According to the tone of the letter, the Parkway directors seem to want to prevent St. Joseph's from closing.

"While we have read most of the articles published in the local area newspapers about closure of the hospital, we have not discounted the possibility of entering into discussions that might save St. Joseph's Hospital from closing its doors," the letter said. "Recognizing a sense of urgency, we make ourselves available at your convenience to commence in talks that will determine whether this proposition has merit."

The state's closure plan for the hospital meant that 911 calls were rerouted away from St. Joseph's as of Saturday, and services would be phased out beginning Aug. 27. The first units to close would be the inpatient surgery services, psychiatric unit and emergency rooms. The hospital's 400 workers have been promised job security in light of the facility's closing.

The hospital houses units for cancer, cardiovascular, AIDS/HIV and wound care. St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers promised to relocate services to its other Queens hospitals, Mary Immaculate in Jamaica and St. John's in Elmhurst.

The directors of St. Vincent said St. Joseph's would cost $40 million to retrofit to modern standards.

Kingham said the company is not opposed to Parkway Hospital's acquisition of St. Joseph's, as long as it is a realistic proposal.

"We welcome discussions, but they need to be definite," she said. "They need to be more focused."

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:15 pm, October 10, 2011
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