Long Beach hospital reopening pushed back again

Reconstruction work is under way at Long Beach Reconstruction work is under way at Long Beach Medical Center. (March 26, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

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Long Beach Medical Center, shuttered by superstorm Sandy, won't reopen until the middle of next month at the earliest -- and only two of five wings plus the emergency department will be operational.

Medical center chief executive Douglas Melzer said the progress was slowed in part because of new water damage in late January from pipes on the second floor that froze and then burst. Negotiating with federal and state officials on near and long-term fixes has also been more time-consuming than he initially anticipated, he said.

In December, Melzer said he hoped the hospital could reopen by the middle of this month. In early February -- when the hospital's nursing home, less badly damaged in the Oct. 29 storm, reopened -- Melzer had said he thought the hospital could be operational at the beginning of April.

"We just want to get people back to work," Melzer said. More than 500 hospital workers remain laid off.

Having no emergency department on the barrier island of 38,000 residents has strained Long Beach's emergency medical services, he said. Patients have to be taken to South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside or Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, a 90-minute round-trip.

Each floor of the four-story building remains in various stages of construction as crews work two shifts six days a week. Of the hospital's list of 57 reconstruction projects, more than half remain unfinished. Under the new plans, the basement, flooded in the storm, will remain empty. That means relocating the pharmacy and supply areas to the third floor. Laundry and food services, which had also been in the basement, have been outsourced and will remain so in the near future, Melzer said.

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Sewage pumps -- hard to find since the storm -- and IT equipment are on order. While repairs to ceilings and walls are almost done, an emergency generator and a new electrical system must be installed. Two of seven elevators have been repaired.

Melzer said the emergency department plus two of the hospital's five wings, which contain a medical-surgical unit and an acute inpatient rehabilitation unit, will reopen initially. Those wings that contain administration, the detox unit, outpatient physical therapy and the wound care center will reopen within the year, hospital spokeswoman Sharon Player said.

About three-quarters of the money for repairs, estimated to cost about $56 million, is coming from insurance or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The state generally pays another 12.5 percent and hospital 12.5 percent. But Melzer said he is hopeful the hospital, financially strapped before the storm, will pay less.

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The hospital got $200,000 from the Robin Hood Foundation and $250,000 from Americare to operate its outpatient family care center. The center, reopened in November, serves the area's uninsured or underinsured.

Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) has asked the State Legislature to give the hospital $250,000 to help cover operating expenses, since the it has gotten little revenue since closing. As of Monday, Weisenberg said it was unclear whether the hospital would get the money.

"It's not a lot, but it would be something," Melzer said.

The medical center is also working on applying for a federal social services grant to help cover operating expenses, he said.

And the hospital is applying for a $10 million to $20 million community development block grant -- designed to boost the local economy -- to help cover the cost of restoration of the nursing home, which houses 150 residents, and construction of a 95-unit assisted living facility.

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The hospital is also working with FEMA on ways to make the hospital and nursing home flood resistant. Options include building barriers around the generator and boiler or relocating them to the roof. Completion could be "a year or years," Melzer said.

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