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OPINION: Too early to settle for freestanding ER at LICH

The Lenox Hill HealthPlex, a freestanding emergency room, will be housed inside this former St. Vincent's Hospital building on Seventh Avenue between 12th and 13th streets. Wikipedia photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Amid all the controversy about Long Island College Hospital, one of the most contentious items about many of the future proposals for LICH is the idea of a freestanding emergency room.

Opponents of these plans charge that freestanding ERs will only be able to accommodate people with minor emergencies that, although painful, can be easily remedied. People with serious emergencies, like heart attacks and strokes, will have to be taken to other ER’s, these opponents say.

Up to now, most of these freestanding emergency rooms in the U.S. have been constructed in outlying areas where the closest hospital may be 10 or 20 miles away. But if we want to see what such a freestanding emergency room looks like, we soon won’t have to go to Iowa. Although it hasn’t been publicized much on this side of the river, a standalone emergency room called the “Lenox Hill HealthPlex” in one of the buildings of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital is scheduled to open in June.

The Chelsea Now weekly newspaper, in its current issue, has a front-page article about the Lenox Hill HealthPlex, which is sponsored by the North Shore-LIJ Health System. The center is designed to accommodate up to 45,000 emergency visits per year, will serve as a receiving facility for the city’s 911 emergency medical center, will have access to lab services and radiology and will include ambulance service to transport patients to other facilities if they need to be admitted.

The sponsors of the HealthPlex, Chelsea Now reports, also describe in glowing terms how the facility will bring hundreds of jobs to the neighborhood, is hiring nurses even now and draws on the experience of the ER physicians in the vast North Shore-LIJ system. (The last element seems somewhat superfluous to me—any new medical facility will, by necessity, draw on the expertise of people with experience in the field.) However, it will have only two beds, which would be used on a temporary basis to get patients ready for transport to full-service hospitals.

Understandably, an emergency room is what people in the St. Vincent’s area want the most – treatment for a heart attack or stroke can’t be put off. But just as in the case of LICH, activists who fought against the closure of St. Vincent’s still say this isn’t enough – what they want is a full-service hospital.

If many people in the neighborhoods served by St. Vincent’s, unlike those served by LICH, are resigned to having the HealthPlex without other medical services, I think that the crucial difference is the passage of time. It’s been four years since St. Vincent’s Hospital has closed down. The hospital’s main building has already been demolished, and a high-rise, expensive condo development is already going up on the site.

In the case of LICH, on the other hand, the hospital is still open. The buildings are still intact, and while condos have certainly been talked about, none are being constructed yet. Doctors and nurses are still on the premises, even those many nurses have been laid off, and ambulances still head to the ER on a regular basis.

In short, LICH, although threatened, is still a going concern. In this early stage, it would be silly for the community to accept a freestanding emergency room, an urgent care center or both as a solution to its health care problems. It’s too soon to give in.

March 18, 2014 - 9:00am


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