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Long Beach emergency department moves step closer to opening with federal waiver on backup electrical system

Exterior of the emergency center in Long Beach,

Exterior of the emergency center in Long Beach, New York on July 1, 2015. South Nassau Communities Hospital has completed an $8 million upgrade to the Long Beach Urgent Care Center, but needs federal approval before it can open and operate the facility as a 24-hour Emergency Department. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

A free-standing emergency department in Long Beach has received a federal waiver permitting it to operate without installing an upgraded backup electrical system -- but the facility still needs state approval of its laboratory before it can open.

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Thursday sent a letter to South Nassau Communities Hospital chief executive Richard Murphy, saying it will grant the hospital a one-year waiver allowing the emergency department to operate with its state-approved "Type 3" backup system, instead of a higher-grade "Type 1" system typical in emergency departments.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had been pushing for the waiver, called it "great news for the hospital."

"To have not been given the waiver would have delayed the opening of the emergency room and would have cost them millions of dollars," he said.

Hospital spokesman Joe Calderone said the hospital was "very pleased" with the waiver.

The barrier island has been without an emergency department since Long Beach Medical Center was flooded during superstorm Sandy in October 2012.

Though South Nassau Communities Hospital, which purchased that facility last year, opened an urgent-care center there last July, it cannot receive ambulances via the 911 system like an emergency department can.

The letter from the federal agency cited several "unique" factors in its decision to grant the waiver, including the time it takes to travel to the nearest off-island emergency department and the fact that the new Long Beach emergency department probably will see only a small number of patients -- about 20 per day, increasing to 50 or more per day during the summer.

Though the waiver is valid for only one year, it is renewable, the letter said.

The hospital plans to operate the freestanding emergency department temporarily for three years, after which it hopes to have built a new medical arts pavilion at the former Long Beach Medical Center site, complete with a permanent emergency department.

Although the federal issue is resolved, hospital officials said they still need state Health Department certification of the facility's on-site laboratory.

The state approval would be "the last regulatory approval we require in order to open the emergency department in Long Beach," Calderone said.

The hospital has "responded in detail to all of the state's concerns and are awaiting final approval to open the lab," he said.

The state Department of Health did not provide comment Thursday.

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), who also had been pushing for the waiver, issued a statement praising the federal agency for not letting "an irrelevant regulation" stand in the way of opening the emergency department.

"The last remaining hurdle is for the state to review the results of South Nassau's laboratory testing, and we'll keep working with our partners at the state level to get that done quickly and get this facility open and fully operational as soon as possible," she said.

Assemb. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said he also would press the state for the necessary approval.

"Today we are closer to having a safer community," he said. "I will continue to work closely with the New York State Department of Health to ensure that emergency medical services are restored to the barrier island as quickly as possible."

Long Beach City Councilman Anthony Eramo called the news "a great victory for our barrier island, and a necessity for everyone to get our 911-receiving emergency room reopened."

Calderone said the facility would be ready to go as soon as it receives state approval. The emergency department had been slated to open July 1, but that date was pushed back because of the federal and state issues.

"We have a beautiful, gleaming brand-new facility that's ready to go," he said. "We're anxious. We have all the pieces in place we think we need to provide really good-quality emergency medical care to residents and visitors on the barrier island."

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