It’s sat abandoned for nearly five years now. A four-story, brick building that once provided space for Verizon employees is now an empty shell fronting Wantagh Avenue just off Sunrise Highway.
What can go in that space? What should go in that space? That’s the question facing the Town of Hempstead Board of Appeals on April 27 when officials from Mount Sinai South Nassau hope to convince the board that the site is perfect for a new “one-stop” medical facility.
“This building will literally help save people’s lives,” said Dr. Alan Wong, Mount Sinai South Nassau’s chief medical officer, during a public information session at nearby Mulcahy’s Pub and Concert Hall last week. “I honestly think it would be a great success to the community to have these types of services readily available.”
Describing the South Shore area as a “medical desert,” Wong says the new 60,000-square-foot facility would allow visitors to visit a wide selection of specialists — from women’s health to oncology to diabetes care — while offering ancillary services like lab work and X-rays without having to travel somewhere else.
The proposed $35 million medical center is expected to employ 30 doctors and 50 support staff members, typically working between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays, with a chance of some evenings and some Saturdays in the future.
Mount Sinai plans to completely renovate the building — including the exterior — and has already purchased some of the surrounding property to add to the nearly 250 surface parking spaces already part of the Wantagh Avenue property. It’s parking that has created some of the pushback from Town of Hempstead officials, which denied Mount Sinai’s request earlier this year.
The board argued 311 parking spots are needed for the building, but Mount Sinai says its own experts believes there’s more than enough spaces for what they need, and that the impact to traffic in and around that commercial district is negligible.
Joe Calderone, a spokesman for the hospital group, says he can’t understand why there is any opposition to this project at all. Facilities like this are designed to help those needing medical services outside of a hospital to get it without the need to travel.
Plus, when Mount Sinai Doctors opened a similar facility in Suffolk County, it was well-received by its Greenlawn neighbors.
“When you have (medical professionals) all in one place, it gives them more opportunity to collaborate, which is beneficial to medical staff and patients,” Calderone said. “Why should the North Shore have this and not the South Shore?”
Ella Stevens is one neighbor who has challenged the proposal. Her Wantagh-Seaford Homeowners Association fears patients and employees will end up parking on side streets, disrupting the nearby residential district by blocking driveways and eating up space intended for those living there.
“Now you want to put in doctors’ offices and other services, which is fine,” Stevens said earlier this year. “But how are you going to accommodate the influx of patients coming in and out? It’s not the same use as the Verizon building, where traffic was mostly stationary.”
But other neighbors don’t agree. Chris Brown, the owner of nearby Mid-Island Medical Supply and a former Wantagh Chamber of Commerce president, says something needs to be done over a massive commercial structure that’s starting to fall into disrepair.
“The building now is in terrible shape and it’s going to make the community that much nicer to fix it,” Brown said. “It’s going to help local businesses.”
Joining him in support is Capt. Timothy Jaccard, president of AMT Children of Hope Foundation and a paramedic with the Nassau County Police Department. His foundation offers pregnant women prenatal care and resources to give up babies if necessary, but in a safe manner.
One of his organization’s safe houses isn’t far from Mount Sinai’s proposed facility.
“I make a point for the women to be seen,” Jaccard said.
“With this, they’re going to be able to get their prenatal care” closer to home.