In 2008, St. Johns Hospital and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens had a total of 119,883 outpatient department visits.
In February 2009, the two hospitals went bankrupt and closed.
In June 2009, the New York City Office of Policy Management published a paper showing that once St. Johns and Mary Immaculate Hospitals closed their doors, the patients that previously went to those hospitals didn’t just vanish. Instead, the patients flocked to other nearby hospitals which were already operating at capacity.
Guess what happened?
Those nearby hospitals – such as Jamaica Hospital in Queens, are now “overwhelmed.” According to the report, Jamaica Hospital’s daily census went up 50% — from 350 visits per day to “well over” 500 visits per day. On May 27, 2009, Jamaica Hospital had 663 visits – more than double its usual number. Other area hospitals such as Elmhurst Hospital, Queens Hospital Center and New York Hospital Queens noted increases of at least “an extra 100 patients a day.”
The number of patients being boarded in the Emergency Department of nearby hospitals also “soared.” Jamaica Hospital, Queens Hospital Center, and Long Island Jewish Hospital all noted dramatic increases in the numbers of patients being boarded in their EDs.
One emergency physician with twenty years of experience was quoted as saying “the state of emergency medicine in the borough of Queens is the worst I’ve seen it in my career.”
At the heart of the hospital closures was funding.
New York City was subsidizing St. Johns Hospital and Mary Immaculate Hospital to the tune of $61 million over the years leading up to the hospital closures. The City was unable to sustain that commitment. Without the city’s support, the hospitals went bankrupt.
Availability of ambulance services is also now in question. When St. Johns and Mary Immaculate hospitals closed, the ambulance services operated by the hospitals also ceased operations. None of the remaining hospitals was interested in providing ambulance services to the area served by Mary Immaculate Hospital, so ambulance service in that area was temporarily taken over by New York City Fire Department EMS. NY City is cutting the budget for the EMS service by $3 million which will result less ambulance availability. One mother noted that it took 25 minutes for an ambulance to reach her home after her son had a seizure. A $60 million Medicaid reimbursement reduction anticipated in the near future will likely result in even less care being available.
Whatever health care reform package that is chosen will necessarily involve an attempt to cut this nation’s health care costs. This country simply can’t sustain its current level of health care spending.
But we need to be very judicious in where spending cuts are made.
Many hospitals are not “rolling in the dough.” Cut funding for health care too much and we risk further hospital closures. The decrease in the quality and availability of care in Queens, NY is just one example of the impact hospital closures can have on the medical care in a community.
Remember this point in the health care debate: We can talk all we want about providing health care insurance to everyone in this country. Health care insurance means nothing if there is no one available to provide the care for you.