Gennaro calls on feds to bail out St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals

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City Councilman James Gennaro (D−Fresh Meadows) Tuesday urged either the federal government or a private investor to bail out St. John’s Queens and Mary Immaculate Hospitals so the financially strapped institutions can be saved.

“After being turned down for a bailout by both state and city government, it’s clear that we will have to look to other sources of funding to try to keep Mary Immaculate and St. John’s Queens Hospitals open,” Gennaro said in an op−ed written in a city tabloid. “Either federal stimulus funds or a takeover by a private investor or operator could still save these hospitals, thereby saving 2,500 Queens jobs and allowing thousands of Queens residents to keep the level of health care they have now.”

But a spokeswoman for Gov. David Paterson’s office told the TimesLedger last week that no federal stimulus money was earmarked for the two hospitals.

Though the emergency rooms are closed and the rest of the hospitals’ departments may follow suit by the end of February, angry employees of St. John’s in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate in Jamaica rallied again Saturday in Jamaica, excoriating Paterson and the state Legislature for not finding a way to keep the facilities open.

Some 170 people marched from Queens Boulevard and the Van Wyck Expressway down to Mary Immaculate Hospital, led by a horse−drawn hearse with a casket symbolizing the death of health care.

The hospitals’ parent company, Caritas, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this month and announced it would close after failing to procure the projected $36 million it would need to continue operating until a reorganization plan could be developed. Some staff members at the protest described the empty halls of the hospitals, saying internal medicine clinics were the only things still operating.

“We need every single bed that we have in Queens,” said state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D−Fresh Meadows), who addressed the crowd before it began marching. “Keep fighting ... we have to keep these hospitals open.”

But some of the protesters doubted how much could be reversed at this point.

“We’re closed already,” said registered nurse Valerie Tucker, who worked at the Monsignor Fitzpatrick Skilled Nursing Pavilion at Mary Immaculate for 18 years. “You can’t open the casket and have the man come alive again.”

Dan Andrews, a spokesman for Borough President Helen Marshall, said despite her pleas to Albany, the state government did not believe the hospitals had the ability to repay either their existing debt or additional loans.

“The state had been funding Caritas already to the tune of $51 million. It simply could no longer afford to do that.”

Caritas sustained operating losses estimated at $60 million in 2008, the company said in a statement. But a new management team that started in October 2008 cut costs and reduced the projected losses for 2009 to $18 million, the company said.

Jackie Susana, an office manager at Mary Immaculate, said she and her administrative colleagues are racing to find other facilities for the hospital’s 150 interns, many of whom will be forced to leave the country if they cannot find another hospital to sponsor them.

Many of the hospital’s senior citizens are still resisting attempts to move them to other hospitals.

“Right now, we have patients not willing to leave their beds,” Susana said, noting that between 60 and 70 of the department’s 200 geriatric patients were still there.

Maria Castenada, secretary treasurer for health care workers’ union SEIU 1199, lambasted the Legislature for its plan to allocate $18 million to other Queens hospitals for increased staff and beds to accommodate the patient volume from St. John’s and Mary Immaculate.

“Their action to pull the plug on these health care facilities is criminal, irresponsible and short−si­ghted,” she said.

A 2006 report conducted by Marshall’s office found that Queens had 1.4 hospital beds per 1,000 residents, compared with 7.1 hospital beds per 1,000 people in Manhattan. The report also concluded that the borough needed two additional hospitals. Since that time, three Queens hospitals have announced closures.

Reporter Stephen Stirling contributed to this article.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 6:36 pm, October 10, 2011
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