Time Is Running Out

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The likely closing of St. John’s Queens and Mary Immaculate hospitals is a disaster that will affect the borough for years. The hospitals have already closed their emergency rooms and Elmhurst and Queens Hospitals felt the impact immediately.

Craig Horowitz, a spokesman for Caritas, which owns the hospitals, said last week that the two hospitals are set to close within the month.

What a wasteful decision that will be. What will become of the buildings, beds and millions of dollars in equipment that have been serving the community for so long?

More important, what will become of the more than 2,500 people who work at these hospitals? Adding that many names overnight to the unemployment rolls in the midst of a recession will have a devastating impact on the economy of the borough. The people who now pay taxes and support families will be collecting unemployment benefits and other funds.

Meanwhile, Queens will lose facilities that serve a combined 200,000 patients each year. The borough’s poor will be the first to feel the pain. It is in large part because these hospitals served the undocumented and uninsured that they have gone into debt. Often, the poor have no health care alternatives and show up in the emergency rooms with illnesses that have gone untreated for months.

Adoja Gzifa, chairwoman of Community Board 12, placed the blame on Albany: “If you are doing a procedure and it costs $100 and you give me $5, how am I supposed to conduct the procedure? I know we are in fiscal dire straits, but we cannot stop serving the poor people in the community.”

The likely closing of these hospitals could not have come at a more difficult time. The state is facing a budget shortfall that no one could have imagined even a year ago. Nevertheless, it should be clear that allowing these hospitals to close will be far more costly than keeping them open.

Caritas has said that if the state can come up with $36 million, it can keep the hospitals open. We urge Gov. David Paterson to find some way to make that happen.

Updated 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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