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Letter: Reopen Long Beach hospital

The Long Beach Medical Center, closed by superstorm

The Long Beach Medical Center, closed by superstorm Sandy, may not reopen as a full-service, acute care hospital, according to hospital officials. (June 26, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

It's unfortunate that Newsday's editorial fails to capture the important issues surrounding the reopening of Long Beach Medical Center ["Long Beach at crossroads," July 22].

The editorial acknowledges that "traffic jams could slow response times for ambulances returning from South Nassau or Nassau University Medical Center, making them unavailable for the next 911 call." However, it fails to state the more important concern: that ambulances may be delayed by traffic from getting patients to those hospitals. That is why a 911 receiving emergency department in Long Beach is vital to the approximately 50,000 residents of this barrier island.

The editorial recommends a "free-standing emergency room," however, that is not the same as a 911 receiving emergency department. The former could not accept ambulances, meaning they would have to travel off Long Beach Island.

The editorial also states that it would take many weeks to reopen the hospital's X-ray, laboratory and pharmacy departments. In fact, all of the required work has already been completed.

As to finances, it is generally recognized that hospitals serving a high proportion of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries have tighter operating margins. Nationally, hospitals experience a 7 percent negative margin on Medicare, and in New York, they experience a 25 percent negative margin on Medicaid.

LBMC had a 2012 payer mix of 85 percent Medicaid and Medicare, and 3 percent charity care. That is the highest rate of government payers and charity care of any hospital in Nassau County, including Nassau University Medical Center, according to the Healthcare Association of New York State.

The state Department of Health has introduced a designation of Vital Access Provider to assist institutions with such a payer mix, and we believe that LBMC should qualify.

The community has demonstrated overwhelming support, as evidenced by the campaign and the recent petition to reopen the hospital. Typically in every community, patients regularly seek care outside their community for services not offered by their local hospital or to receive specialty services. For example, it is common knowledge that residents of Nassau County will often seek services in Manhattan for cancer care and orthopedics.

LBMC's internal customer satisfaction scores exceed 90 percent and include all patients, not just the sample cited by Newsday.

As for the claim that long-term stays are above average, LBMC's length of stay has declined over time. Also, it's to be expected that the variety of inpatient services offered and the older age of the patients would lead to stays being somewhat longer. Residents of the Komanoff Center for Geriatric and Rehabilitative Medicine -- the hospital's nursing facility -- are admitted only when directed by the patients' attending physicians.

Responding to community needs, the hospital recently converted inpatient beds to establish a chronic dialysis unit. In addition, LBMC provides inpatient physical medicine and rehabilitation, inpatient psychiatry, inpatient drug and alcohol detoxification services, home-care, wound care and hyperbarics, nursing home care and a wide range of medical and behavioral health outpatient care. These services not only respond to the needs of the community but underwrite the cost of providing emergency room and clinic services.

The hospital's plan is a thoughtful, clinically appropriate balanced model of inpatient, emergency and outpatient services. We desire to affiliate with another local institution and have been engaged in discussions with South Nassau toward that end. We will work diligently with all parties to assure that Long Beach residents have ready access to hospital services.

Douglas Melzer, Long Beach

Editor's note: The writer is chief executive of Long Beach Medical Center.