Last week area elected officials gathered at the Mount Sinai Hospital of Queens (in previous incarnations Astoria General Hospital and Western Queens Community Hospital) to mark the start of an expansion program that by the time it's completed will see a new and expanded Emergency Department, renovated heating, ventilating and air conditioning and emergency power generation systems, and a radiology unit within the confines of the Emergency Room so patients will not need to go through the main hospital for X-rays ordered by an Emergency Department physician.
In addition to the changes to its physical plant, the hospital will incorporate several new diagnostic and treatment facilities, including a new mammography suite, a new two-room endoscopy suite and a unit devoted to non-invasive cardiology. Improvements will be made to the surgical services environment and main lobby as well. The new hospital will bear little resemblance to the Astoria Sanitarium founded more than 70 years ago.
The Astoria-based hospital is not the only such institution slated for upgrades and improvements. Queens Hospital Center is undergoing a far-reaching renovation effort that will radically alter the face of the hospital, making it smaller in bed capacity but offering a much wider range of services. This seeming contradiction is readily explained by the fact that modern-day medical practices mean much shorter hospital stays for all except the sickest or most severely injured patients, while Queens' changing population brings in people with different symptoms for problems which are more easily and efficiently treated on an outpatient basis.
Other hospitals across Queens, both public and private, are undergoing similar changes. They are certainly welcome. Public health needs have changed radically from the time these institutions were founded, in some cases when facilities still in use were built. No longer are indigent patients housed in 16-bed wards, the case a century ago in public hospitals across the country. Now patient rooms house at most four beds and are bright and cheerful, in stark contrast to the somber, almost prison-like atmosphere which was standard hospital decor once upon a time. Children's units have room for parents to stay overnight with their children in acknowledgment of the fact that the presence of a family member is a major factor in a speedy recovery. Laboratory facilities have expanded and most hospitals have or share diagnostic equipment such as CAT scan and MRI machinery the founders of these institutions could not have imagined.
Advances in diagnosis and treatment and new knowledge of drug mechanisms have radically altered the way most people feel about their neighborhood hospitals as well. Not so long ago the prevailing opinion in many quarters was that a hospital was a place to die. For someone to walk out under their own power was the exception, rather than the rule. Now, at the start of the 21st century, the situation has reversed itself. For many people, a hospital is truly a place of healing.
Even for those who seldom avail themselves of their services, hospitals are an asset to a community. Their presence indicates a commitment to the well-being of the populace they serve and a belief that a heathy population is a productive and happy population which will add to the well-being of its environment. "There are few investments we can make that provide as much return as our health care system," Assemblymember Michael Gianaris said at the kick-off ceremonies for the Mount Sinai Emergency Department renovations. His colleague on the City Council, Speaker and mayoral candidate Peter Vallone, made just such an investment, securing $2.8 million in Council funds for the renovations. Borough President Claire Shulman's substantial commitment to Queens Hospital will stand as one of the outstanding features of her time in office.
We applaud the efforts of all who make our hospitals work, from the volunteers who staff the gift shops and push the book carts to the elected officials who work to raise capital improvement funds to "the people in white jackets-the people that count, the people that care, the people that cure," as Vallone put it. Queens is a better place because of them.