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Long Beach residents sue FEMA over Oceanside hospital funds

Long Beach Medical Center sits empty on Dec.

Long Beach Medical Center sits empty on Dec. 6, 2012, with damage from superstorm Sandy. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Long Beach citizens organization has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Federal Emergency Management Agency, challenging how $154 million was allocated to replace the Long Beach Medical Center after superstorm Sandy.

South Nassau Communities Hospital, which purchased the Long Beach hospital out of bankruptcy after the October 2012 storm, announced in February that it planned to spend $40 million of about $170 million in FEMA and state aid to build a medical arts pavilion in Long Beach. Hospital officials said the remaining funds are to be used to improve and expand South Nassau facilities in Oceanside, where Long Beach residents would also be served.

South Nassau opened a free-standing emergency room in Long Beach in August to take 911 calls and ambulance service.

The lawsuit was filed July 5 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Central Islip by the Beach to Bay Civic Association and five Long Beach activists: Barbara Bernardino Dubow, Martin Gruber, Constance DiBenedetto, Mark Tannenbaum and Ed Glister.

Bernardino Dubow said in the lawsuit that Long Beach residents, and those in Point Lookout, Lido Beach and Atlantic Beach, won’t receive the medical care they need without a full hospital.

“This money was meant to replace a hospital in Long Beach, not a glorified urgent care center,” Bernardino Dubow said of the FEMA funds. “The people of Long Beach need a hospital on the barrier island, not in Oceanside.”

Advocates for the hospital have argued Long Beach residents face challenges getting to hospitals off the island from draw bridges that connect to the South Shore, and insufficient options for the elderly, handicapped or low income families that have to travel to Oceanside.

The medical arts pavilion would be built on the Long Beach Medical Center property and include a 9,500-square-foot emergency department, facilities for dialysis, lab work, X-rays and radiology, and a pharmacy.

South Nassau officials would not comment on the lawsuit but said the new emergency room treated 1,000 patients last month and treated about 88 percent of its patients in Long Beach, senior vice president of communications Joe Calderone said. Only about 9 percent of patients had to be admitted in Oceanside, they said.

“We believe any action taken by the plaintiffs which impedes the restoration of important health care services to the barrier island or may imperil federal aid in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy is without merit,” hospital officials said in a statement.

South Nassau chief executive Richard Murphy has said restoring the original 162-bed hospital would not be financially viable.

The Long Beach Medical Center was seeing about 12,000 patients per year before it closed because of Sandy.

South Nassau’s plans still require state approvals, including a certificate of need and environmental review, and zoning approval by the City of Long Beach.

“The Hospital will continue to work with responsible civic leaders and local legislators to work toward the further development of vital services which meet community need while assuring the appropriate stewardship of limited financial resources to all the south shore communities it serves,” South Nassau officials said in the statement.


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