2003-12-17 / Front Page

St. Joseph’s Hospital Hurting, Trying To Avert Closing

by john toscano

St. Joseph’s Hospital in Flushing has suffered financial losses this year, according to a hospital spokesman, and is working to "transition" the facility to another hospital in Queens.

Spokesmen Michael Fagan said, "We’re trying to find an appropriate medical entity to fund capital improvements and run the hospital." He did not identify any of the other hospitals.

Fagan added, "We’re optimistic we’ll find another partner."

Fagan said the financial loss was due to "lower reimbursements, increased costs and a change in the patient mix," which he defined as a large number of uninsured patients.

He said St. Joseph’s, the former Hillcrest General Hospital at 79th Avenue and 158th Street, was taken over by the Catholic Medical Center in 1985 and subsequently became part of the St. Vincent Catholic Medical Center. It is grouped in Queens with Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica and St. John’s Queens Hospital in Elmhurst. A hospital in Brooklyn is also in the grouping.

"With three hospitals in Queens, we are not able to dedicate the necessary resources to all three," Fagan said.

He added that St. Joseph’s predicament is not unique. "The health care environment is in a very difficult place right now," Fagan said. "Hospitals are hurting around the city and we at St. Vincent’s CMC have been experiencing some severe losses in the Brooklyn–Queens area to the amount of close to $30 million this year."

Kenneth Cohen, chairman of the hospital community advisory committee, said, "It is now up to the communities at large to step up and not wait until the doors of this hospital are closing. We need to show how effective this community can be when services are threatened to the community at large"

Toward that end, community leaders and officials of Local 1199, the city health and human services union joined with St. Joseph’s Hospital staff to try to stem the operating losses and keep the hospital from sinking further.

To date, a third hyperbaric chamber has been installed in the hospital, which has the only such units in Queens. The hospital has also renovated and added some new computer equipment. To attract patients, the hospital has issued a guarantee that any person who comes in for emergency care will see a physician within an hour, Fagan said.

Supporters of the hospital are also lobbying local, statewide and federal elected officials for health care policy changes to secure funding to treat the uninsured.

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