South Nassau Communities Hospital's Long Beach Emergency Department is seen...

South Nassau Communities Hospital's Long Beach Emergency Department is seen on Wednesday, May 25, 2016. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

South Nassau Communities Hospital’s Long Beach Emergency Department has treated more than 6,710 patients over the past 10 months, with nearly 88 percent being treated and released without having to leave the barrier island, the hospital said Wednesday.

In addition, surveys conducted from October through December by an independent health-care consultant ranked the emergency department in the 94th percentile nationwide in overall patient satisfaction compared with other emergency departments, the hospital said. It has treated conditions from lacerations, broken bones and strep throat to strokes and heart attacks.

The hospital’s statistics from the Long Beach Emergency Department’s opening in August through the end of April show 87.8 percent of its patients were treated and released, while 8.7 percent were transferred to the main 455-bed hospital in Oceanside. About 85 percent of the Long Beach facility’s patients arrived on their own — by car, public transportation or on foot — and 15 percent were brought by ambulance.

“The data show that local residents are increasingly depending on South Nassau’s Emergency Department, have accepted it as the ‘go to’ facility for emergency care on the barrier island and are having an overwhelmingly favorable experience,” Richard J. Murphy, president and CEO at South Nassau, said in a statement.

South Nassau in October 2014 took over the bankrupt former Long Beach Medical Center, a 162-bed facility damaged in superstorm Sandy two years earlier, and replaced it with the free-standing emergency department at 325 East Bay Dr.

The move sparked intense debate, led by the Beach to Bay Central Council of Civic Associations, with critics saying the barrier island, with its high percentage of aged and poor residents, is too isolated to be without a facility that has acute-care beds and operating rooms.

South Nassau, citing another consultant’s report that a small hospital would not provide quality care or be financially sustainable, said it can meet local needs without one. It intends to replace the current emergency department with a medical arts pavilion offering a range of specialties, including dialysis, to be located on the site of the old hospital.

The civic group has objected that much of the $170 million in federal and state funds won to restore medical services to Long Beach would be spent on upgrading South Nassau’s Oceanside hospital. Hospital officials, however, said Federal Emergency Management Agency rules permit expenditures as long as they benefit residents of Long Beach, and said more than a third of the total figure would stay in Long Beach.

“We’ll probably have invested well over $70 million to acquire the Long Beach Medical Center, build the current emergency department, demolish the old buildings and build the new center,” Murphy said. “We’re dialoguing with that group and others to identify a long-term development plan. I think we’ve come a long way with that group.”

Representatives of Beach to Bay, who met Wednesday to discuss the latest proposals from South Nassau, agreed that progress has occurred but are still pushing for an acute-care hospital.

“We’re in talks with South Nassau and we’re in agreement with several aspects of their proposal,” said Barbara Bernardino, the civic association’s president. She cited proposals to add a third floor to the medical arts pavilion, set to open in 2019, with the capability to add a fourth, and a willingness to consider making it a Level Three trauma center.

Dr. Martin Gruber, a retired orthopedic surgeon who is a Beach to Bay member, said the absence of a hospital in Long Beach has led to an loss of local medical practices. He said he isn’t sure what can be expected from South Nassau.

“Their promises and statements have been vague, so I can’t tell you what they are willing to consider,” he said. “What we need is a Level Three trauma center, and we need a way to treat the high incidence of chronic disease on this island.”

Dr. Joshua Kugler, chairman of emergency services for South Nassau, said medical practices will return to Long Beach as the medical center begins making referrals.

Murphy said primary care would be one of the main elements in the medical arts building, along with six dialysis stations, expanded radiology and a lab. A range of clinical sub-specialties, from adolescent health and obstetrics to cardiology, orthopedics and ambulatory surgery, are “on the drawing board for feasibility testing,” he said.

“We have said from the very beginning, we’re happy to develop clinical programs that are needed and financially sustainable,” he said, noting the emphasis in medical care has been shifting from inpatient stays to ambulatory services that keep people out of the hospital.

South Nassau decided to release the patient statistics for the Long Beach Emergency Department to allay concerns over the care available on the barrier island in time for the higher demands in the summer months, officials said.

“We want people to be aware the facility is there,” Murphy said. “We’re seeing between 35 and 40 patients a day, and the expectation is that during summer that will surge to 50 to 60 a day.”

Kugler said the objective is to provide the best care for Long Beach residents.

He said that the emergency room already is a major improvement in emergency care. “We’ve developed a unique and modern approach, a patient-centric approach, to health care delivery in that ER that heretofore did not exist. We can deliver diagnostic assessments at a faster rate than any other ER,” including “a cardiac assessment in five to 10 minutes that would take an hour elsewhere.”

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