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Editorial

South Nassau hospital has the right prescription

Posted

It’s been nearly four years since Hurricane Sandy extensively damaged the Long Beach Medical Center and indirectly led to its closure. Its absence still looms large: Long Beach lost hundreds of jobs and many of its doctors, and the closing has hurt the local economy.

We believe that South Nassau Communities Hospital’s plan to establish an emergency department and medical arts pavilion on the former LBMC site is the most viable option to ensure residents access to a local emergency room and quality health care.

A number of community leaders also support the SNCH plan, which would allocate $40 million of the $154 million the Federal Emergency Management Agency originally earmarked to rebuild the LBMC to the new facility in Long Beach, with the balance being used to improve emergency and critical care services at SNCH in Oceanside. But leaders of Beach to Bay Central Council of Civic Associations — who insist, in the face of much evidence to the contrary, that a small but full-service hospital would be economically viable — have now sued FEMA to block the distribution of these funds. This misguided effort is doomed to fail, and could delay construction of both the medical arts pavilion in Long Beach and the much-needed expansion in Oceanside.

Memories are short, but SNCH isn’t the bad guy here. It got involved after the State Department of Health refused to allow LBMC to reopen. Why? Because LBMC was failing even before Sandy struck. It was high on the state’s list of most financially distressed hospitals, and care had deteriorated to the point where most barrier island residents avoided going there in non-emergencies. SNCH was the only health care provider that was willing to take on the bankrupt LBMC.

Would it be preferable if Long Beach could sustain its own hospital? Absolutely. But it’s unrealistic to call for the rebuilding of what existed previously, or even the smaller facility that Beach to Bay continues to advocate. The way health care is delivered has shifted drastically in the past decade, toward regional hospitals with local ambulatory hubs. Hospitals are closing around the state. The Health Department has made it clear that it would not be likely to approve a full-service hospital in Long Beach just five miles from SNCH.

What’s more, the uncertainty created by this legal action could potentially derail plans — and talks — that were set in motion two years ago.

After listening to Beach to Bay and others, SNCH officials have offered to add a third floor to a facility that would double in size to more than 50,000 square feet and would include more services than initially proposed — an outpatient dialysis unit, radiology services, primary care and a wound-care center, among others. Advocates should continue to push for additional services at the Long Beach facility, rather than obstruct the plan.

The expansion of the SNCH campus in Oceanside will improve the delivery of health care across the South Shore, including Long Beach. The current emergency department in Oceanside was designed to handle 35,000 visits per year, but actually takes in around 67,000.

The most critical issue to us is what happens in an emergency. If someone on the barrier island has a stroke or heart attack or suffers serious trauma, where will an ambulance take them and how long will it take to get there? Long Beach is dependent on three drawbridges to reach the mainland — bridges that are raised frequently, snarling traffic and emergency access.

We think solutions are possible:

• South Nassau should work with the state to invest as much of the FEMA funding as economically viable to establish a more robust emergency facility in Long Beach, ideally one that can accept ambulances transporting the broadest possible range of critical patients, while also offering more ancillary services and outpatient care, particularly for seniors, low-income residents and those in need of mental health services. (It’s worth noting that since the current ambulance-receiving emergency department opened last year, it has seen more than 8,000 patients, 88 percent of whom were treated and released without leaving the barrier island.)

• Traffic concerns are very real and need to be addressed. To get from Long Beach to SNCH you must use roads and bridges controlled by the City of Long Beach, the Town of Hempstead and Nassau County. These jurisdictions must cooperate and coordinate to address this issue, and we call on our elected officials to make that happen. Bridge openings can be controlled, traffic lights synchronized and ambulances equipped with traffic-light-control devices. Our state and federal representatives should help find the funding necessary to implement such a plan.

• SNCH needs to listen better to the concerns of barrier island residents. The hospital should increase the number of Long Beach residents on its board of directors. It should also establish an advisory council that incorporates a broader cross-section of the community than it appears to be listening to currently.

The SNCH plan is fundamentally sound. The hospital and the community need to work together to make it better.