Andrew Triolo took a break, looking a little under-caffeinated on a recent Tuesday morning.

The assistant vice president for design at South Nassau Communities Hospital had been overseeing construction of the South Nassau Urgent Care Center at Long Beach, which is set to open Tuesday in a parking lot at the defunct Long Beach Medical Center.

Two shifts of about 70 workers each have been working seven days a week for close to a month to make sure the center opens on time, and that has meant many long days for the architect.

The night before he didn't leave until 10:30, and Triolo said he was working "on fumes." But he said he was excited "to get health care to the community."

South Nassau officials said the $3.9 million center, a 4,700-square-foot modular unit shipped from Raleigh, North Carolina, is a first step toward providing more robust medical care on the barrier island since the Long Beach hospital was closed after being badly damaged by superstorm Sandy in October 2012.

"It's the beginning of a coordinated health care delivery system returning to Long Beach," said Mark Bogen, chief financial officer at South Nassau.

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In May, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge approved the sale of the financially ailing 162-bed Long Beach hospital to 435-bed South Nassau for $12 million.

 

Awaiting state approval

The Oceanside hospital is still awaiting approval by the state attorney general's office to formally acquire Long Beach's assets, required because Long Beach was a not-for-profit facility. Bogen said he hoped that would be completed by the end of July. The attorney general's office said it had received the petition and it was under review.

South Nassau has pledged to operate a free-standing emergency department on Long Beach, a process that Bogen said could take anywhere from six to 18 months. Not having an emergency department -- especially in summer when the population of the barrier island swells -- has been a source of anxiety among officials and residents.

Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman said the city council was "very pleased" to see the new urgent care center, but he made it clear the city council was eager to see "a fully functioning 911 receiving emergency room."

Although the center won't be an emergency department, it will be staffed with board-certified emergency doctors and nurses, said Dr. Joshua Kugler, chairman of South Nassau's department of emergency medicine.

"It will be hospital grade," he said.

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With 10 exam rooms, two procedure rooms, an X-ray machine, an ultrasound machine and eventually a CT scan, it will be able to handle a large summer population, Kugler said. Hours will be 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on weekends and holidays. An ambulance will be parked at the center in case of a life-threatening emergency.

Whether the now-empty hospital building will eventually house an emergency department or other medical departments remains unclear. About $20 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency has already been spent on repairs to the hospital. FEMA has approved another allocation of money for repairs and upgrades, which, "although not finalized, may approach $150 million," Bogen said.

Despite the repairs, South Nassau officials said they worry structural damage or mold is still lurking behind walls, which they can't inspect until they legally take ownership of the building.

 

Concerns remain

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"The experts have said even behind the cosmetic facade, there could be significant structural issues," Bogen said. "Without opening things up we really won't know."

It's even possible, he said, they will have "to pull the whole thing down."

In the meantime, officials and advocates said they were pleased with the urgent care center.

Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) said that although he would prefer a full-service hospital, he was "grateful to have a resource of excellent health care coming to Long Beach."

State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said he was "encouraged by the opening of this new facility."

Barbara Bernardino, facilitator for the Beach to Bay Central Council of Civic Associations, who has been spearheading protests to reopen a full-service hospital, said she was feeling "more optimistic" -- although she said she won't give up her fight for a hospital with beds.

"Certainly it's not a solution, but it's something," she said.