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Re-launching St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway

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At least two people who were born at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, in Far Rockaway, attended what amounted to the health care facility’s relaunch on Nov. 14, celebrating the official openings of a full-service pharmacy, a café and a non-denominational reflection room.

“I was born here, and I’m happy it’s still serving the community,” said lifelong Inwood resident Roy Meserole, 84. “The hospital was able to get through turbulent times.”

Meserole and more than 100 others attended the reopening of the main lobby of St. John’s, which included no fewer than three ribbon-cuttings. The event marked the continuing overhaul of the only hospital on the Rockaway Peninsula since the 2012 closing of Peninsula Hospital. St. John’s serves the Five Towns and surrounding communities.

“This is a far cry from when I walked into this lobby four and a half years ago and saw the dreaded ‘hut,’” said the hospital’s chief executive officer, Gerard Walsh. The hut was an aesthetically challenged combination gift shop and eatery. “Our big mission is to have a new strategy for St. John’s to improve the patient and customer experience,” Walsh added. “To im-prove access to care for our entire community.”

Another goal, he said, is to ensure the hospital’s financial viability. “Four and half years ago we were managing no grants,” Walsh said. “Today we’re managing close to $40 million in grants.”

The money is being put to work as St. John’s continues work on the renovations of its emergency department, which began shortly after Peninsula Hospital closed and the number of people using the department — which was built to accommodate 15,000 a year — jumped to more than 40,000. When finished, the emergency department will measure 22,000 square feet, nearly twice the size of its original 12,500 when it was built in 1950. Phase 2, Walsh said is “well on its way to being completed, and should open in the spring.”

The final planning for what hospital officials describe as a comprehensive women’s center, on 105th Street, is nearing completion as well. St. John’s plans to build a 3,850-square-foot radiation oncology center, the first in the Rockaways since Peninsula closed, and is renovating its labor and delivery area. Plans include new consultation, exam and patient dressing rooms, state-of-the-art equipment, and what hospital officials say will be the Rockaways’ only linear accelerator. The device uses high-energy X-rays or electrons to destroy cancer cells without harming the surrounding healthy tissue.

Meanwhile, the primary care and behavioral health services center, across the street from the hospital, is in Phase 3, Walsh added. It will encompass breast surgery, cancer screening, fetal medicine, mammography and bone density scanning, nutrition, routine and subspecialty gynecological and obstetrical care, ultrasound, urogynecology and the treatment of high-risk obstetric patients.

“I remember 10 years ago, being the newly consecrated bishop of the [Episcopal] diocese and therefore the chairman of the board of St. John’s Hospital,” Bishop Lawrence Provenzano said, “coming through the old doors and walking into what was then the lobby, and my first thought was, ‘This can’t continue.’”

An entranceway with revolving doors now leads into a much wider, well-lit lobby. The Seaside Café includes a Starbucks and a gift shop, and the reflection room has set days and times for Catholic, Christian, Interfaith and Jummah, or Islamic Friday prayer, services. Jewish services are available on request.

The pharmacy, operating since May, now takes most major insurance plans, and was highlighted by both Walsh and Maria Booker, vice president of New York operations for Maxor National Pharmacy Services Company, which manages the facility.

“We strive to provide this high-quality pharmacy, along with patient education, and to help them with the appropriate use of prescriptions,” Booker said, adding that a “Meds to Beds” program would soon get under way. As patients are discharged, the pharmacy will fill their prescriptions and deliver them before they leave. The pharmacy is also available to non-patients. Using the federal 340B Drug Pricing Program, the hospital can offer medications at substantially reduced prices, Walsh explained.

Originally established as St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1905, the facility served as the South Shore Division of Long Island Jewish Hospital from 1973 to 1976. The Church Charities Foundation, the forerunner of Episcopal Health Services Inc., assumed stewardship in 1976, and renamed it St. John’s Episcopal Hospital. Episcopal Health Services took over 11 years later.

“Being born in this hospital, I am connected to this building, this footprint,” State Assemblywoman Stacy Pheffer Amato, 53, a Democrat who represents the area, said. “This community was deprived of quality health care, and you have brought that back to us.”