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Long Beach residents: Don’t send $130M of FEMA funds to Oceanside

Representatives from South Nassau Communities Hospital, Assemb. Todd

Representatives from South Nassau Communities Hospital, Assemb. Todd Kaminsky and Legis. Denise Ford, listen to Councilwoman Eileen Goggin during a forum on South Nassau Communities Hospital's plan, on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Long Beach residents and city council members voiced their opposition Monday night to a proposal by South Nassau Communities Hospital to spend $40 million of $170 million in potential federal and state reimbursements on a medical arts pavilion in Long Beach and the remainder on an expansion at its Oceanside campus.

In a forum attended by about 180 residents and hosted by Assemb. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) at Lindell Elementary School, residents questioned why all the money — $154 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the rest from the state — wasn’t being spent in Long Beach to rebuild a hospital on the barrier island.

South Nassau took over the former 162-bed Long Beach Medical Center in October 2014, after it declared bankruptcy following damage from superstorm Sandy on October 2012.

City Council member Scott Mandel voiced the feelings of other council members when he said, “Before one dime is spent outside of Long Beach, first we should see what we need here.”

Barbara Bernardino, president of the Beach to Bay Civic Association, again raised the possibility of filing a lawsuit against FEMA, questioning “whether $130 million of FEMA funds should be spent in Oceanside, while our barrier island community has significant medical needs that require consideration.”

The group has advocated for rebuilding a full-service hospital instead of just a free-standing emergency department, which South Nassau opened in August.

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The comments followed a presentation by Dr. Bruce Vladeck, former head of the federal Health Care Financing Administration and a senior adviser to Nexera Consulting, a Manhattan-based health care consulting firm hired by South Nassau, on the health care needs of the barrier island. He concluded that a newly rebuilt hospital on Long Beach would lose about $11 million a year. Instead, he has recommended expanding emergency services and primary care.

But residents questioned his findings and that of a survey that found that most Long Beach residents were satisfied with their health care.

“The most important questions were not asked,” said Lido Beach resident Phyllis Libutti, vice president of the Beach to Bay group. She said the group has more than 1,000 signed petitions and another 1,000 online, calling for a new state-of-the art hospital on Long Beach.

Dr. Martin Gruber, a retired surgeon and member of the Beach to Bay group, argued that residents were sicker and poorer than Vladeck’s report showed.

“A free-standing emergency department is not sufficient,” he said. “This is not a Third World country. We need a real hospital.”

South Nassau Chief Executive Richard Murphy said his concern was providing services that would be financially sustainable and protect the viability of the Oceanside hospital. He said the hospital already has spent $34 million.

South Nassau proposes spending another $40 million in potential FEMA reimbursements on a two-story medical arts pavilion on the site of two wings of the former Long Beach hospital. The pavilion, which would be 23 feet above sea level and about 25,000 to 30,000 square feet, would include a 9,500-square-foot emergency department, six dialysis stations, a lab, X-ray and other imaging equipment, pharmacy and administrative offices.

The remaining $130 million South Nassau has proposed would be spent on expanding its emergency department, upgrading its power and electrical plant, and building a four-story tower that would include seven state-of-the-art operating rooms and 24 critical-care beds. This would come under FEMA’s so-called alternative use provision that allows rebuilding damaged facilities in other areas where they will be most effective.

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