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Long Beach officials, residents push for full-service hospital

The Long Beach City Council has joined residents in pushing for a full-service hospital instead of a planned urgent care facility after superstorm Sandy damaged Long Beach Medical Center and left the city without a hospital.

More than 75 residents at Tuesday night's council meeting wore red T-shirts to express their support for a full hospital. South Nassau Communities Hospital officials said they would transition the urgent care center to an emergency receiving facility when they get state approval.

"This barrier island must have a hospital," said Phillis Libutti, co-founder of the Beach to Bay Central Council of Civic Associations, which represents community groups from Point Lookout to East Atlantic Beach. "Though Sandy changed everything else in our lives, it did not change our geographical location. We are still on a barrier island, connected to the mainland by three drawbridges."

A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge last month approved the sale of the 162-bed Long Beach Medical Center, which has been shuttered since Sandy in October 2012, to South Nassau for $12 million.

Closing the sale and transferring the medical center's assets could take until mid- to late July to be finalized, pending reviews by state agencies, hospital officials said. South Nassau is to open a temporary urgent care center by July 1.

"This is not what is traditionally known as urgent care," Mark Bogan, South Nassau's senior vice president and chief financial officer, said in an interview Wednesday. "This is just an early coordination for care for the Long Beach community."

In a letter sent Monday to South Nassau's chief executive, Richard Murphy, the City Council requested a meeting to discuss the next chapter of operations.

"The summer season is upon us, bringing tens of thousands of visitors to our community," the City Council said in the letter. "The need and desire for a functioning hospital with a 24-hour 911 Receiving Emergency Department in the City of Long Beach is critical."

In response, Murphy said in a letter to the council that South Nassau expects to start construction Thursday of the temporary urgent care center at 325 East Bay Dr. The center will provide care and treatment for acute medical conditions, laboratory and radiology imaging services, as well as ambulatory care. Patients who need further emergency care or hospitalization will be transported to South Nassau or a hospital of their choice.

"Opening a new hospital here in Long Beach, using FEMA money is an important first step," civic co-founder Barbara Bernardino said. "The fact that South Nassau is building parking spaces and shrubbery does not address the issue that needs to be addressed. The hospital, not an urgent care, has to be here to help the economy here."

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