State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah Thursday called the Long Beach Medical Center board of trustees' statements about the hospital's recovery "a flagrant misrepresentation of the facts."
State Health Department and hospital officials said this week that the financially strapped medical center, closed since superstorm Sandy, may not open as a full-service, acute-care hospital.
Instead, at the urging of the health department, the hospital has begun talks with South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside about a possible merger. The health department has said it will not approve renewed operations unless the hospital has a viable financial plan.
Bernard Kennedy and James Portnof, the chairman and vice chairman of the hospital's board of trustees, said in an ad published Thursday in Newsday 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 in a two-page letter to the trustees dated Thursday, Shah 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 hospital countered Thursday that it had submitted numerous plans to the health department.
"At the request of the DOH, LBMC contracted with a nationally recognized healthcare consulting firm to prepare a financially sound, clinically appropriate plan based upon the needs of the community," the hospital said in its response. That plan, submitted to the health department in March, was rejected.
"Based upon the DOH's feedback, we modified the plan," the hospital said. "However, the DOH did not accept the revised plan because it included inpatient acute care services."
In his letter, Shah urged the 162-bed hospital, which has been operating in the red since 2007, to merge with South Nassau.
"If LBMC were to file for bankruptcy to erase their liabilities and then merge with SNCH, the newly created entity would have access to Federal Emergency Management Agency funds," Shah said.
So far, about $20 million in temporary repairs have been done on the hospital, although the hospital has received only about $950,000 from FEMA and $2 million in insurance.
Long Beach City Council president Scott Mandel and Long Beach Chamber of Commerce president Michael Kerr called for the state to reopen the hospital -- especially the emergency department -- because of their concern that the time it takes for ambulances to get off the barrier island will increase as the summer population swells.
"In a medical emergency these delays may mean life-saving care is delayed," Kerr said in a letter asking residents to contact their legislators.
Mandel, who wrote a letter to Shah dated June 21, agreed. "We want and need a full hospital as we are a barrier island community -- but first and foremost we need an ER to run ambulances," he said.Since the Oct. 29 storm, emergency patients from Long Beach have been taken to South Nassau -- a trip that can take 20 minutes -- or to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, which can take about 25 minutes, said hospital spokeswoman Sharon Player.