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The right health care prescription for Long Beach

Exterior view of the Long Beach Medical Center

Exterior view of the Long Beach Medical Center in Long Beach, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014. Two years after superstorm Sandy the financially strapped 162-bed hospital is expected to be partly demolished. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

At long last it looks like the City of Long Beach is going to get the medical facility it needs most: an on-island emergency room.

It's also becoming clearer that residents and local politicians aren't going to get the facility many were used to and want to see replaced: a full-service hospital. Building a new Long Beach Medical Center would be out of line with where the industry is headed: more outpatient services, specialized facilities, and fewer beds and inpatient hospital procedures.

But what the community does deserve is for South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside to make sure some health care services and the jobs they bring are located in the city. South Nassau took on that responsibility after it bought the Long Beach Medical Center campus out of bankruptcy and then was awarded $154 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The 162-bed medical center was destroyed by superstorm Sandy in 2012, but even before that, the place was troubled. Many avoided the hospital, for elective procedures, for example, if they had the means and mobility to make a choice. The facility consistently operated at a deficit. And it only stayed afloat by too frequently admitting patients from the adjoining nursing home and overcharging them.

Long Beach proved it couldn't support a full hospital long before Sandy. Now, with the 200-bed nursing home sold to a private operator and at least three of five old hospital buildings declared unsalvageable, that is more clear than ever.

However, the island does need its own emergency room. With only three motor-vehicle bridges to the mainland and thick traffic in the summer, injured and ill patients need to be stabilized locally when possible. So it's very welcome news that South Nassau will open an emergency room by July 1 by upgrading the urgent care facility it has operated since last July.

What's not yet set is how South Nassau will spend the FEMA money to provide care in the region. Local officials argue that all $154 million should be spent in Long Beach. South Nassau officials say, correctly, that it would be unconscionable to spend the money on a new hospital that wouldn't be sustainable and could go broke and close.

The trend in medical care is toward regionalizing. South Nassau says it can build and run facilities on the mainland of Long Island that would serve the health needs of Long Beach, and that's true.

But the opposite is true as well. There's no reason facilities and jobs for some specialties can't be located in Long Beach. Regional residents would travel to that city for services, just as Long Beach residents travel off their island.

Long Beach and its residents' needs must be cared for. The city can't be left behind. But neither can it, or any other community, have its medical needs served in an old-fashioned manner as industry models change.