Long Beach emergency hospital unit could be up by July 1, officials say

Exterior view of Long Beach Medical Center in Exterior view of Long Beach Medical Center in Long Beach on Jan. 22, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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The chief executive of South Nassau Communities Hospital said he hopes to have a temporary emergency facility operating in Long Beach by July 1, the day after the Oceanside hospital takes possession of the defunct Long Beach Medical Center.

And, he said Friday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved more than $139 million to be allocated for repairs and upgrades to the heavily damaged Long Beach hospital.

"Our goal is to, as quickly as we can, set up an environment with a 911 point of entry and holding capacity for patients," said South Nassau chief executive Richard Murphy. Not having an emergency department -- especially in summer when the population of the barrier island swells -- has been a source of anxiety for officials and residents.

The temporary facility would be located near the hospital, Murphy said.

As for the federal money, Murphy said he believed it was sufficient to do the necessary repairs and upgrades.

"I'm confident we're within striking distance," he said.

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Facilities change owners

Last Monday, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge approved the sale of financially ailing 162-bed Long Beach Medical Center, closed since being heavily damaged by superstorm Sandy in October 2012, to 435-bed South Nassau for $12 million. South Nassau is set to take control of the hospital June 30.

The adjoining nursing home, which reopened four months after the storm, was sold to another buyer, Michael Melnicke -- who outbid South Nassau -- for $17 million. Efforts to reach Melnicke, who owns nursing homes in the Rockaways, were unsuccessful.

If possible, Murphy said, he would like to open a mobile urgent care center on the Long Beach campus by Memorial Day, and he said the hospital is in negotiations with Hackensack Medical Center in New Jersey for their mobile unit.

He said the hospital also has located a 5,000-square-foot modular facility that could serve as a fully functioning emergency department that he hopes will be on site by July 1.

And within four to six months, he said, he hoped to begin repairs and upgrades on the hospital site.

Murphy said he plans to meet with Long Beach residents to hear what else they would like to see there. "I think it could be a terrific campus," he said.

Officials praised the plan.

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Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has been vigorous in attempts to get funding for the hospital, said in a statement: "This is just the amount we asked for from FEMA and ensures enough funds will be in place to rebuild an essential facility and provide the Long Beach community with outstanding medical services into the future."

Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) said he believed the plan would meet the community's needs. "I thank God South Nassau is willing to come in and provide a resource for the people," he said. "We're looking to provide for the necessary health and safety of our people, and with a 24-hour emergency room, people will be able to get that."

Long Beach City Council Vice President Fran Adelson said in a statement that "having an urgent care facility in Long Beach is definitely a positive step forward by South Nassau" and that "we are still advocating to have a 911-receiving emergency room as soon as possible."

About $20 million in FEMA money has already been spent on repairs to the hospital, Murphy said, but that "didn't come close" to bringing the hospital, which still has water coming through its foundation and mold spores in the basement, up to code. "Our engineers have estimated $166 million in damages," he said.

'Alternative use'

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But South Nassau has agreed to pursue "an alternative use plan" rather than replace the entire facility. The New York State Department of Health had opposed efforts to reopen Long Beach, which had been losing money since 2007, as a full-service hospital unless it had a viable financial plan. Instead it urged the South Nassau takeover and the opening of a free-standing emergency department.

Murphy said about $2.5 million would be needed to reopen the hospital emergency department.

Some of the FEMA money, he said, would be spent on expanding South Nassau's emergency department and intensive care unit, which have had increased volume since Long Beach's closing.

Meanwhile, South Nassau notified the state April 30 -- before the sale -- that it planned to lay off 372 employees at the Long Beach hospital and nursing home. The required Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act filing, or WARN notice, said "separations" will occur between July 17 and July 31.

But Sharon Player, spokeswoman for the Long Beach facility, said only about 273 employees remain, 225 of them working in the nursing home and 48 in the hospital. Of those 48, South Nassau said it is "carefully evaluating each individual" on a case-by-case basis.

As for the nursing home, an attorney said the new management would offer jobs to workers but not executives.

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