About a dozen people lay down early Saturday outside the Long Beach Medical Center on East Bay Drive and Lincoln Boulevard, staging a "die-in" to protest the lack of a working hospital on the barrier island.
Lying on the wet, cold ground and pretending to be dead for three minutes was a challenge in the near-freezing temperatures and dirty, days-old snow, but the group reiterated its belief that the area needs an emergency room, as it has argued since the medical center was shuttered after superstorm Sandy flooded the hospital in October 2012.
The protest followed an announcement Friday by South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside that it plans to offer emergency services on Long Beach but will not reopen a full medical center there. The Long Beach hospital has been in talks with South Nassau about a takeover since June and is expected to seek bankruptcy protection.
But civic leaders say a barrier island community should have immediate access to an emergency room. Having to drive over a drawbridge that could be up for boat traffic in the summer or iced over in the winter to get to the nearest hospital is too time-consuming, said Darlene Haut, a Long Beach resident who protested Saturday.
Another attendee, Barry Pinto, spoke of the groundswell of people that descend on the city's beaches during the summer. "Our lives are at risk -- everyone on the barrier island -- if you're gonna die in five minutes, you're dead," he said. "Anyone who has a heart attack in that water, you're dead."
In October, the state allocated 435-bed South Nassau Communities Hospital $6.6 million in federal money toward building an urgent-care facility in Long Beach that could open by late spring. Newsday reported Saturday that a 24/7, 911-receiving emergency department could open in Long Beach later this year.
That's not soon enough, said Barbara Bernardino, facilitator of a newly formed umbrella civic group, the Beach to Bay Central Council of Civic Associations, which led the "die-in."
"It is not over until this facility is opened immediately," Bernardino said. "What do you mean this spring? How many lives have to be lost?"
With Ridgely Ochs