The state has given South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside $6.6 million in federal money to build an urgent care center on the site of the shuttered Long Beach Medical Center -- the clearest signal yet that South Nassau will be taking over the barrier island's 162-bed facility.
Long Beach Medical Center, closed since superstorm Sandy almost a year ago, has been in private talks with South Nassau about a possible merger since June.
South Nassau chief executive Richard Murphy and Long Beach chief executive Douglas Melzer said separately they anticipated being able to discuss the outlines of a deal in two months.
"I think that on the whole, we're on two paths. One is to try to restore short-term services; the other path is to come up with a longer-term health plan that would encompass the health facility," Murphy said. "We're dealing with complex issues. We've made significant progress."
Murphy said the urgent care facility was "not stopgap. We would like to build on this."
Melzer called the urgent care center "a first phase of re-establishing other services, including a 911-receiving emergency room in Long Beach, consistent with a memorandum of understanding executed by both institutions."
Bill Schwarz, a spokesman for the state Department of Health, said the grant "will play a vital role as South Nassau and Long Beach work to develop a sustainable, viable health care delivery system for the Long Beach community."
The $6.6 million grant, announced Thursday, is part of $200 million in federal money awarded to more than 450 organizations impacted by Sandy.
Long Beach officials have argued that the hospital should reopen as a full-service hospital for the barrier island's 38,000 residents. But State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah has said he will not approve reopening the hospital, which has been losing money since 2007, unless it has a viable financial plan.
Instead, Shah urged the hospital into talks with the 435-bed South Nassau and proposed that Long Beach operate as a free-standing emergency center and urgent care center.
South Nassau said the grant will provide "support for staff, clinical services, equipment, supplies and other expenses associated with the start-up and operation of a comprehensive hospital-level urgent-care facility located on the Long Beach campus and operated by SNCH."
The facility will include 12 exam rooms "and provide treatment and triage for a wide array of serious medical conditions," South Nassau said in a news release.
"In addition, ambulance triage, laboratory and radiology imaging services will be provided on site," the hospital said.
South Nassau said the grant would also "allow for studies, which will assist in the long-term redevelopment of the Long Beach Medical Center campus. These will include a complete physical assessment of the very substantial infrastructure damage to the facility."
Long Beach Medical Center had already spent $20 million in repairs to the facility.
Officials were happy with the news. State Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) called the urgent care center "a step in the right direction."
"We really have to have urgent care and emergency care," he said.
Scott Mandel, Long Beach City Council president, agreed, but said the city would "continue to aggressively advocate for that as well as reopening the hospital facility and bringing back much-needed jobs for our Long Beach residents."The hospital was the largest nongovernmental employer in Long Beach before Sandy. About 700 people remain laid off.
Other organizations on Long Island that received the social services block grant include: $1.4 million to Long Island Coalition for the Homeless in Garden City for repairs; $2.9 million to Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park as reimbursement for taking care of patients during Sandy; $2.2 million to South Shore Association for Independent Living Inc. in Baldwin to rebuild a community residence; and $2.1 million to FEGS Health & Human Services for damage to a 10-story 138-unit low-income residential building for seniors and the disabled.