Mount Sinai South Nassau has closed the Long Beach Emergency Department for up to a month, and possibly longer, as of Monday afternoon due to a shortage of vaccinated nurses, hospital officials said.
Hospital officials notified the state Department of Health on Friday and filed a formal closure plan, officials said. The closing of the barrier island’s only emergency room was done to maintain staffing levels at the hospital’s main campus in Oceanside in the face of a nursing shortage there, the officials said.
There are eight to 10 ER nurses that normally rotate between Long Beach and the main hospital in Oceanside. They will now stay in Oceanside, officials said.
Patients coming to the Long Beach ER will be redirected 20 minutes away to the main hospital in Oceanside and an ambulance will be stationed at the closed Long Beach department at all times.
Long Beach City Councilwoman Liz Treston, a Democrat, said Mount Sinai South Nassau should have had contingency plans after having months to prepare for the vaccine mandate.
"When it comes to health care, they are our only source of emergency health care on the barrier island," Treston said. "They were given that responsibility, and this is a complete abdication of their responsibility to us."
The closure could last a month and could be extended depending on staffing availability. Hospital officials said they were recruiting vaccinated staff to the hospital and hoped to reopen the ER by Dec. 15.
Hospital officials made the plan to close the emergency room after the state ordered Thursday that any remaining staff at state hospitals seeking temporary religious exemptions be suspended if they didn't have a valid medical exemption or proof of receiving a dose by Monday.
"We regret having to take this step, but the safety of our patients is always our No. 1 priority," said the hospital's president, Adhi Sharma.
The hospital had asked the state for a two- to three-week extension to impose the mandate deadline but were told Thursday that request was denied. The mandate has been the subject of pending litigation.
"We know vaccinations are the best way to safeguard our staff and our patients, but we were looking for a longer offramp and it didn’t give us enough time to correct the staffing shortage," Sharma said. " . . . There’s nothing we can do to staff the emergency department with the current health care staffing crisis in the country. It threw the timing into a black box."
The state Department of Health said it was reviewing Mount Sinai South Nassau’s temporary closure plan.
"Ensuring health care workers and covered entities who care for our loved ones are vaccinated is critical to keeping New Yorkers safe and protecting our health care system," spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said.
Other Long Island hospital systems, including Catholic Health, NYU and Northwell Health said they were not facing similar staffing shortages due to the mandate.
Northwell, the state’s largest health care system, has been able to avoid serious shortages by using its own staffing agency, aggressively recruiting new employees and monitoring its workforce numbers on a daily basis, said Maxine Carrington, chief human resources officer.
"We are not seeing record departures, but we are not resting on our laurels," Carrington said.
South Nassau officials said about 99% of its staff is vaccinated, but about 100 hospital staff members of the 3,500 employees had sought vaccine exemptions. None had been granted.
The hospital previously terminated 10 employees for refusing to get vaccinated.
Sharma said the first group of additional nurses hired was expected to arrive by Nov. 29 and another group expected to arrive Dec. 6. But the traveling nursing contracts were not confirmed, and hospital officials said staffers needed to be trained before they could reopen the Long Beach Emergency Department.
South Nassau has been requesting retired nurses to come back to work in the ER and cannot rotate nursing staff from other Mount Sinai facilities to Long Beach because of a lack of nurses trained for emergency services, officials said.
The New York State Nurses Association, without commenting on the vaccine mandate, said hospitals have failed to hire enough nurses.
"In hospital systems across the country, nurses are caring for far more patients, of varying acuity, than state law allows. What we are seeing is not a matter of fate, it is a matter of political will; and despite the rhetoric, many hospital systems lack the will to do what is right for caregivers and patients alike," NYSNA president Nancy Hagans, a registered nurse, said in a statement.
South Nassau opened the Long Beach Emergency Center in 2016, converting an urgent care center at the site of the former Long Beach Medical Center, which was closed after Superstorm Sandy.
South Nassau was awarded $154 million following storm damage at the Long Beach hospital and granted a plan to build a $40 million emergency room and medical arts building while using the remaining funds in Oceanside.
Assemb. Missy Miller (R-Atlantic Beach) said the hospital should continue to allow unvaccinated nurses to work with daily testing.
"I think it was incredibly shortsighted by the Department of Health," Miller said. "It is the only emergency department on the barrier island. Closing this makes it harder for patients in Oceanside, let alone the barrier island."
Nassau County Legis. Denise Ford (R-Long Beach) said the closure would have implications at other hospitals on Long Island from patients diverted from Long Beach and Oceanside.
"We’re going to feel pinch not only in Long Beach, but through Nassau County," Ford said.
With Lisa Colangelo