Meeting on Long Beach Medical Center's future 'productive'

The Long Beach Medical Center, closed by superstorm

The Long Beach Medical Center, closed by superstorm Sandy, may not reopen as a full-service, acute care hospital, according to hospital officials. (June 26, 2013) (Credit: Steve Pfost)

Officials from the state health department and Long Beach Medical Center said they had a productive meeting Friday to discuss the future of the financially beleaguered hospital, shuttered since superstorm Sandy.

"We had a good conversation," said state Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah. "We all want exactly the same thing: high-quality, sustainable health care."

Douglas Melzer, the hospital's chief executive, called the 75-minute meeting in Manhattan "very productive" and said both sides will be "working very expeditiously" to come up with an acceptable health care plan.

The meeting took place after Shah and hospital trustees, in what became a public dispute, exchanged letters earlier this month about reopening the hospital.

Hospital board of trustees chairman Bernard Kennedy and vice chairman James Portnof have said that "given the size and geographic isolation of the community, an acute-care hospital with emergency services is both clinically appropriate and financially viable."

But Shah has said that the hospital and its officials have "waged a campaign to reopen its doors without fulfilling any of the obligations that the department has required" and has "failed to produce a financially and operationally sustainable health care business model."

The health department has said it will not approve reopening the hospital, which has been losing money since 2007, unless it has a viable financial plan. At the state's urging, Long Beach has begun talks with South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside about a possible merger and has proposed setting up a freestanding emergency center.

On Friday, the health department presented a 44-page document outlining the hospital's financial woes and quality-of-care issues and reviewed three options for the hospital: remain closed, have a freestanding emergency department, and "retool" its inpatient facility.

In 2011, the hospital was $2.5 million in the red and had little cash in reserve, according to the health department.

But trustees said consultants have found that a freestanding emergency room would pose a financial loss. Instead, they've called for keeping some inpatient beds -- which are reimbursed at higher rates -- to "offset the fixed costs connected with operating the emergency room."

Long Beach officials and residents have urged the hospital and state to provide emergency services on the barrier island.City manager Jack Schnirman has called on "all involved" to get an emergency room opened as soon as possible.

Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) said that, with a population that swells to 100,000 in the summer and many elderly residents, the time spent taking emergency patients off the island to South Nassau or to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow could mean the difference between life and death.

Residents also have made their concerns known and sent a petition with more than 10,800 signatures to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, asking him to re-establish essential health care services.

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