By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Charging that southern Brooklyn neighborhoods like Bensonhurst, Bath Beach, and Dyker Heights are being shortchanged by New York State when it comes to health care, the chairman of Community Board 11 is urging his members to write to State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav R. Shah to demand better services.
“We can’t continue to be shortchanged,” Bill Guarinello told members at the board meeting on Feb. 13.
The time for action is now, Guarinello said. “Are we going to wait until we have no hospitals?” he asked.
Victory Memorial Hospital in Bay Ridge was closed by the New York State Department of Health in 2010. Coney Island Hospital sustained massive damage in Hurricane Sandy in October and was closed for more than two months. It is just now starting to get back on its feet. And now Long Island College Hospital is set to close.
To be sure, there are hospitals serving the southern Brooklyn area. But Guarinello told his board that those facilities are at their limit in terms of what they can handle. Community Board 11 serves Bensonhurst and Bath Beach.
The closure of Victory Memorial Hospital caused a ripple effect in surrounding hospitals like Maimonides Medical Center, Lutheran Medical Center, and Coney Island Hospital, according to Guarinello, who said patients who had previously gone to Victory Memorial’s emergency room now had to go to other medical facilities. As a result, those hospitals were overrun with patients. If an emergency patient needs to be admitted into the hospital, the wait for a bed can be as long as 24 hours, he said.
“You’re on a gurney in a hallway,” Board 11 District Manager Marnee Elias-Pavia said. “Go and take a look in an emergency room. It looks like a MASH unit,” Guarinello said. Guarinello once served as chairman of Victory Memorial’s Board of Trustees.
Even the temporary closure of Coney Island Hospital caused the numbers of emergency room visits at Lutheran Medical Center and Maimonides Medical Center to jump, according to statistics Coney Island Hospital officials provided elected officials and civic leaders who attended a recent legislative breakfast the hospital sponsored.
In November, Maimonides Medical Center served 9,100 patients in its emergency room, up from 7,800 it had served in November of 2011. Lutheran Medical Center had 5,840 ER visits, an increase from 4,325 in November of 2011. Another local hospital Beth Israel Kings Highway Hospital, a smaller facility, saw its emergency room visits double, from 1,800 in November of 2011 to 3,600 this past November.
The closure of Long Island College Hospital will have a negative impact on hospitals in southern Brooklyn, Guarinello predicted.
The State University of New York Downstate Medical Center runs an urgent care center, a type of clinic, at the former Victory Memorial site on Seventh Avenue and 92nd Street. The center is open from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Residents can go there to get flu shots and receive other types of treatments, but the center does not handle emergencies. Guarinello said that when the State Dept. of Health closed Victory Memorial, “this community was promised a 24-hour facility.” He dismissed the hours of operation at SUNY Downstate at Bay Ridge as banker’s hours.
“I think we were sold a bill of goods,” Guarinello said.
The community should demand that the state establish a 24-hour health care facility to serve local residents, Guarinello said.
The community should also demand that the state certify additional beds for hospitals in southern Brooklyn, a move that would mean more funding to enable the hospitals to hire more staff, Guarinello said. “The hospitals can’t open up beds unless the state gives them the funds,” he said.
Assemblyman Peter Abbate, who attended the community board meeting, said the Cuomo Administration is contending that Brooklyn hospitals have excess beds that are not being filled by patients and that additional state funding for these hospitals is not needed. “I want to know where all these extra beds are,” he said.
The local health care problem is exacerbated by the fact that Brooklyn patients with good health insurance tend to favor Manhattan hospitals for their elective procedures, Abbate said. Local Brooklyn hospitals have to handle large numbers of uninsured patients, which is costly, he said.
“It’s a major problem we’re facing in Brooklyn. For some reason, people believe if they go to a hospital in Manhattan, they’ll get better care,” Abbate said.