When Peninsula Hospital closed five years ago and St. John’s Episcopal Hospital became the hospital on the Rockaway Peninsula, the Far Rockaway medical center experienced a 35 percent jump in patients using its emergency services.
St. John’s officials last week celebrated obtaining a $10.15 million grant from the New York State Department of Health to help complete emergency services renovations that will also include creating primary care space in a building right across the street. The 111-year-old hospital also operates an off-site ambulatory center at 275 Rockaway Turnpike in Lawrence and similar sites on the peninsula.
The emergency department reconstruction will expand its space from 12,500-square-feet to 23,000. The original emergency department, built in 1950, was designed to treat 15,000 patients per year — not the more than 40,000 it is now serving now. The new space will include 19 main private treatment rooms, 21 internal disposition areas, six fast-track cubicles and 14 psychiatric treatment areas. The expansion will allow the hospital to accommodate 50,000 patient visits a year. St. John’s has 257-beds and is typically 85 percent occupied, officials said.
A bevy of elected officials and other community leaders joined together in the hospital’s lobby on July 6, to praise the work of all involved, especially a group called the 1199 Coalition made up of local politicians, hospital representatives, members of the United Healthcare Workers union and residents, who campaigned to obtain the state money.
“This community needs health care services and we can provide the services this community needs,” said Gerald Walsh, who has been St. John’s chief executive officer for the past two years.
Christopher Parker, the hospital’s chief operating officer, said that phase one is 80 percent completed. That was paid for with $4 million from another state grant obtained three years ago. Phases two and three are expected to take 12 months each. The emergency department is projected to be done by this time next year, and the primary care space in what is known as the BOCES building is anticipated to be finished in 2019, he said.
For Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer-Amato, being at St. John’s is a homecoming. “I was born in this hospital,” she said, and her line “22 years ago” generated much laughter from the audience. She is 51. “We have always had this hospital. In good times and in bad times. I love my roots. Our toughness, our grit.”
Rep. Gregory Meeks, whose district includes Inwood, noted that the 1977 Berger report on health care in New York called for only one hospital in the Rockaways. “Now there is only one hospital here so the emergency room services are needed.
During a tour of the construction area, Facilities Manager Tom Farzetta explained what used to be the patient walk-in area will become the ambulance bay and patients will enter on the opposite end. Ambulance-area walls will include a bumper to protect against damage. The refurbished emergency department will have state-of-the-art equipment, including two imaging areas and a CT scanner. .
“This is a great day,” said state Sen. James Sanders Jr., a Democrat who also represents the area.
“I take it personally as a resident of the Rockaways that has used the emergency room. I think we have to do better, and we have done better [with this project].”
Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, head of the Episcopal Diocese on Long Island for the past eight years, called receiving the money a “milestone.” “This is not a culmination of a lot of good work, it is the beginning of a lot of good work for the mission of this hospital.”