South Nassau Communities Hospital plans to open a freestanding, round-the-clock emergency department in Long Beach, sounding the death knell to any hopes of reopening Long Beach Medical Center.
The financially strapped Long Beach hospital, closed since superstorm Sandy struck in October 2012, has been in talks -- at the state's urging -- with South Nassau about a takeover since June and is expected to declare bankruptcy.
Damian Becker, a spokesman for South Nassau in Oceanside, said recent recommendations by the state Public Health and Health Planning Council paved the way for the planned emergency department.
"Given the new proposed recommendations . . . we will move to develop a free-standing 911-receiving ED backed up by South Nassau Communities Hospital," Becker said in an email.
Becker said the plan, contingent on the recommendations being approved, calls for the emergency department to operate "24/7."
In October, the state allocated 435-bed South Nassau $6.6 million in federal money toward building an urgent-care facility in Long Beach.
But many residents and local officials have been adamant about the need for an emergency department on the barrier island, especially in the summer when traffic swells and bridges can be up for boat traffic.
Since Sandy, ambulances go to either South Nassau or to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, a round-trip that usually takes an hour, Long Beach hospital spokeswoman Sharon Player said.
The Public Health and Health Planning Council, the state's policy-making body for public health issues, published recommendations earlier this month for a range of ambulatory care services, including free-standing emergency departments. Although the state has had some free-standing emergency departments, these recommendations follow federal guidelines.
The state Health Department did not return requests for comment Friday.
Urgent care facility in spring
South Nassau plans to open the urgent-care facility in late spring, Becker said, and the emergency department could open later this year, "perhaps late this summer."
But he said that's contingent on a number of factors: The recommendations still need to be approved and turned into regulations; and South Nassau is in final discussions with Long Beach Medical Center about an "asset purchase agreement" to buy the land, buildings and equipment.
"SNCH will also assume the operating license of the nursing home, but not the hospital," he said, referring to the Komanoff Center for Geriatric & Rehabilitative Medicine, which reopened in February. The nursing home suffered less damage than the 162-bed hospital, which was flooded during Sandy.
South Nassau hopes to have those negotiations completed in February, Becker said. However, the purchase agreement is still subject to approval by the bankruptcy court, "a process that has an indefinite time frame," he said.
Douglas Melzer, the Long Beach hospital's chief executive, said he was "pleased" by the commitment from South Nassau.
"We continue to work with all parties to restore important health care services to serve residents on the barrier island," he said.
Raymond Jude Ellmer, a Long Beach hospital trustee, called the plan "terrific," but said he's worried that an emergency department might not open by summer.
State and local officials also praised the plan.
"We need an ED capable of supporting and providing medical care to protect the health and safety of the community," said Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach).
State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said he was "encouraged by the ongoing conversations with South Nassau Communities Hospital in making this a reality." Long Beach City Councilman Anthony Eramo said a free-standing emergency department "would be a major step forward for the city."
But a community activist said the promise of an emergency department wasn't good enough.
"It should be opened immediately," said Barbara Bernardino, facilitator for the Beach to Bay Central Council of Civic Associations, a newly formed umbrella group that includes civic groups from the barrier island.
Call for open discussion
Bernardino said the future of the hospital should be discussed in a public forum, not behind closed doors.
"We did visioning for the boardwalk in the open," she said, referring to the rebuilding of Long Beach's iconic boardwalk.
"There needs to be visioning about the hospital. It is a community asset," she said. " . . . It needs to be done with same diligence that the boardwalk was done, and with public input."