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Fight to reopen Long Beach hospital goes on

Reconstruction work is under way at Long Beach

Reconstruction work is under way at Long Beach Medical Center. (March 26, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Long Beach Medical Center trustees outlined in a three-page letter Monday to State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah a plan to downsize the hospital from 162 beds to about 80 to "provide limited, but needed inpatient services."

In the latest round of what has become a public squabble about reopening the financially beleaguered hospital, closed since superstorm Sandy, the trustees said they "take no pleasure in 'sparring' " with Shah.

A Health Department spokesman said it is reviewing the hospital's letter.

Shah, in a letter dated last Thursday, took the hospital's trustees to task, calling their published statements about the medical center's recovery "a flagrant misrepresentation of the facts."

The Health Department has said it will not approve reopening the hospital, which has been losing money since 2007, unless it has a viable financial plan. At the state's urging, the medical center has begun talks with South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside about a possible merger.

Bernard Kennedy and James Portnof, the chairman and vice chairman of the Long Beach hospital's board of trustees, said in an ad published last 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."

The ad prompted a swift response from Shah, who wrote that the hospital has "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."

But Kennedy and Portnof said in their letter Monday that "although health care economics pressure us to remain closed, the Long Beach geography requires us to reopen. We view the need for a fully responsive emergency capacity as an absolute requirement."

The trustees said that consultants had found that a free-standing emergency room -- a proposal Shah mentioned in his letter -- would pose a financial loss. "It is unfair and impractical to burden any potential partner with that loss," they said.

Instead, they called for keeping some inpatient beds to "offset the fixed costs connected with operating the emergency room."

In his letter, Shah pointed out the hospital is the ninth most financially distressed hospital in the state. But Kennedy and Portnof said it has among the highest percentage of Medicare and Medicaid patients in the state.

"We don't look at it as a black eye to be struggling, when we are serving so many people who are struggling," they said.