By Joseph J. Fennessy
South Nassau Communities Hospital has been working to restore and improve health care in Long Beach for the past five years, and has made a major commitment with a new $40 million medical arts pavilion, which will bring a variety of medical specialists back to the barrier island to care for patients close to home.
The new facility — to be located on the site of the former Long Beach Medical Center — will have 18 exam rooms and two procedure rooms, hosting a wide variety of highly skilled physicians whose services are largely lacking on the barrier island today, including OB/GYN, pediatrics, primary care, urology, cardiology and geriatrics, as well as a lab and imaging services.
The energy-efficient building, to be built above the 100-year flood plain, will complement the freestanding Emergency Department that South Nassau opened three and a half years ago on the site. Along with the state and federal governments, SNCH will have invested $78.8 million on the barrier island since Hurricane Sandy to address health care needs.
The Emergency Department is Long Island’s only 911-receiving facility of its kind, and has treated more than 31,500 patients, the vast majority of whom were treated and released without ever having to leave Long Beach. Patient satisfaction scores for the facility have consistently ranked in the 90th percentile, an unprecedented accomplishment for an emergency room. South Nassau originally proposed moving the E.D. into the medical arts pavilion, but that option proved too costly.
As stewards of Federal Emergency Management Agency funds that South Nassau obtained after the hospital bought the assets of the Long Beach Medical Center in bankruptcy court after Sandy, it is our responsibility to stretch those taxpayer dollars to provide the most services for the least cost. If the E.D. were part of the new pavilion, in order to conform to Article 28 of state public health law, the pavilion would have to be built above the 500-year flood plain — some 23 feet above sea level — instead of the 100-year flood plain. That would add significant cost to the project and make it financially unfeasible.
So, in order to maximize FEMA money for clinical programs in the new facility, South Nassau has proposed to state regulators that the pavilion be constructed as a non-Article 28 facility. The services provided there would be delivered under the licenses of the medical professionals involved, not an institutional license required by Article 28. That would be advantageous for pavilion patients, because they would not be charged a separate facility fee in addition to the bills they receive from individual medical professionals.
By keeping the Emergency Department in its current location, South Nassau will free up space in the pavilion to provide additional services. Since emergency service is a regulated program under Article 28, however, and can only be provided with an institutional license, the E.D. must remain separate from the pavilion — but the pavilion could be built at a cost that makes the program financially viable. The E.D., meanwhile, will continue to be subject to the same extensive regulatory oversight under Article 28 as the main hospital campus in Oceanside.
South Nassau’s commitment to Long Beach and to the residents of the barrier island has not changed. The hospital has invested more than $38 million to date in an effort to restore needed emergency services there, using a combination of its own resources, FEMA funds and New York State Department of Health grants. We continue to be dedicated to restoring needed health care services. South Nassau recently partnered with Dr. Lee Weitzman, a Long Beach cardiologist who has been practicing medicine there for more than 30 years, and is investing more than a half-million dollars to update and expand his practice.
Our long-term vision for the site of the former Long Beach Medical Center is to create a medical campus that will include the free-standing Emergency Department, the medical arts pavilion, a nursing home (not operated by South Nassau) and possibly an assisted-living facility in two shuttered buildings on the site.
We are confident that our current plan will help reinvigorate medical services on the barrier island most efficiently while meeting the needs of its residents.
Joseph Fennessy is chairman of the board of South Nassau Communities Hospital.