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Waiver sought on backup electrical system for Long Beach emergency department

The South Nassau Urgent Care Center at Long

The South Nassau Urgent Care Center at Long Beach was slated to open with a newly renovated $8 million emergency department on July 1, 2015, but was stalled pending federal and state approvals. The building is shown here on June 30, 2015. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Legislators have asked federal regulators to waive a requirement for a higher-grade electrical backup system that has halted the opening of a free-standing emergency department in Long Beach.

The newly renovated $8 million emergency department was slated to open Wednesday but was stalled pending federal and state approvals. Instead, the expanded facility reopened as an urgent care center, which cannot accept ambulances via the 911 system.

South Nassau Communities Hospital said the denial of approval from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services could mean that the emergency department won't open this summer.

Hospital spokesman Joe Calderone said Wednesday that having to replace the backup system "could mean we lose the summer" and estimated it could cost at least $1 million.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said he spoke Wednesday morning with CMS Acting Commissioner Andy Slavitt to ask him to review the decision.

"He said he would have an answer in the next few days," Schumer said. "He couldn't guarantee which way it will go, but we'll really get a review."

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) said at a news conference Wednesday at the Long Beach site that she also had called CMS.

"If it's a silly regulation that's holding this up, that's insane," said Rice, who spoke of the more than 2 1/2 years since superstorm Sandy shuttered Long Beach Medical Center.

"We can't afford to go another summer" without an emergency department, she said.

CMS did not answer requests for a response.

Last July, South Nassau, which purchased the bankrupt Long Beach hospital for $11.8 million in October 2014, opened a $5 million, 6,000-square-foot urgent care center. But residents' persistent worries about the time it takes to transport emergency patients off the barrier island prompted the hospital to build the emergency department on the same site. Construction began April 8 on the facility, which was upgraded and expanded to 8,200 square feet.

But CMS has denied approval, saying that the ED requires a "Type 1" emergency backup system, which is capable of providing uninterrupted power, using diesel or propane, to someone on life support. The hospital had installed -- with the state's approval -- a "Type 3" emergency backup electrical system, which provides battery backup power for up to 90 minutes and a natural-gas powered, stand-alone generator.

Hospital officials argue that the free-standing facility won't provide the level of care of a hospital-based emergency department and thus the higher-grade backup system isn't needed.

The hospital also is awaiting certification from the state Department of Health for the new emergency department's laboratory, which should take several weeks, hospital officials said.

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