HOSPITAL DOWN THE TOILET?
BY MELANIE CARROLL
The last three years have been tumultuous for Flushing Hospital, but
its ultimate fate will soon be decided as creditors juggle the troubling numbers.
In 1996, the oldest hospital in Queens was taken over by its mammoth
local competitorNew York Hospital Queens (NYHQ). As a result of the hospitals
ever increasing debt, the acquisition soon led to layoffs, bankruptcy court and worker
"We try to get things done but weve got one person doing the
work of three people," said a cashier at the Flushing Hospital cafeteria. "I
started working here before NYHQ took over. Then I had one job as a cashier. Now I have to
clean the tables, count the money, be a cashier, and serve food. They work us to
Last week, NYHQ announced it was backing away from the debt-ridden
Flushing while Jamaica Hospital, in cooperation with Lenox Hill Hospital, wants to
resuscitate the local healthcare fixture.
According to Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, the Flushing community would
be adversely affected. "If Flushing closes its doors it would be a tragedy for the
people who rely on its services," he said. "The future of healthcare in Flushing
is at stake."
Diagnosing The Crisis
On March 2, the hospitals creditors committee will decide its
fate; either it will be liquidated to satisfy creditors or Jamaica Hospital will take the
"This is a big risk," said David P. Rosen, president of
Jamaica Hospital. "Flushing was days away from liquidation and we are giving it the
best shot we can. We dont intend to back out. We are geared up to make it happen.
But its not over till its over."
As New York Hospital Queens (top) backs away, the fate of
Flushing Hospital is now up to its creditors.
Tribune Photos by (top) Liz Goff
and (bottom) Ira Cohen.
Last December, NYHQ announced its plan
to liquidate and transfer clinical operations out of Flushing. Jamaica Hospital and Lenox
Hill Hospital responded weeks later with a proposal to takeover the bankrupt facility with
the crucial support of unions and other hospital employees.
"It became clear that there was much
internal resistance. New York Hospital was getting pounded," said McLaughlin.
"The people at Flushing were saying, were not going to work with
The National Health and Human Service
Employees Union, the New York State Nurses Association and the Committee of Interns
and Residents, along with non-union physicians, created a united front after hearing of
NYHQs liquidation plans.
Union members circulated an internal petition
calling for a three percent salary cut, as a bargaining chip to maintain the hospital.
NYHQ caved under the pressure.
"We felt that it was impossible to move
forward with our plan without the cooperation of the physicians and other labor,"
said Brian Salisbury, spokesman for NYHQ.
NYHQ then backed away from the hospital it
had been running for years. "This is definitely a victory for the hospital workers.
This is saving between 1200 and 1400 jobs," said Steve Kramer, National Health and
Human Service Employees Union Vice President. "It is unprecedented, especially the
way the doctors got involved. Im sure Flushing will be a success story just like
Jamaica Hospital was years ago."
The Not So Thin Red Line
Flushings debt looms large. The 250-bed
hospital owes somewhere between $75 and $116 million to creditors. Much of the
debt$41 millioncomes from medical malpractice suits. Last year the hospital
lost approximately $15 million. Not to mention that the largest creditor wanted to
liquidate it a just two weeks ago. NYHQ is owed over $40 million and the facility
continues to lose over $1 million a month.
"Its hard to figure out exactly
how much Flushing owes," said Martin Bunin, attorney for the creditors
committee. "In unsecured credit the amount is somewhere between $71 and $96 million.
Secured credit is probably between a few million and $20 million. Given these facts
its possible that Jamaica might back out."
The hospitals fate remains in the hands
of the creditors committee. The committee consists of several organizations owed
money by Flushingsuch as an employee pension fund, a union whose workers were
illegally laid off, and a multitude of other companies including a pharmaceutical company.
Next week a majority vote of 51 percent or more will determine if Jamaicas plan cuts
the financial mustard.
The Jamaica Lenox Hill proposal calls for $12
million to be put aside to pay off creditors over the next several years. It also contains
$8 million to keep present operations afloat. But is that enough to keep the hospital from
"We are concerned about the money. We
dont know if Jamaica can handle the debt. We will have to wait and see," said a
spokesman for Borough President Claire Shulman.
Negotiations between Jamaica and the
creditors committee continue. Not only is the review process complicated, it is
incomplete. The analysis of financial operations is still underway and many sections
"This is a big undertaking. There are
more instances of missing information, which make this deal tough," said David Rosen,
president of Jamaica Hospital. "For example the Y2K preparations might be an enormous
black hole. These are the types of transitional issues were dealing with."
Meanwhile hospital workers want Jamaica to
take the reins but are aware that the situation is all but resolved. "Everyone
is happy. But we are nervous about getting too excited," said Jesse Dilandro, a
Flushing Hospital employee. "We are cautious. And praying that nothing bad happens
with Jamaica. They have a good reputation with their workers."
Next weeks decision will be followed by
the last and final step in the whole process. On March 10, the hospital will execute the
committees wishesbe it liquidation or a return to a full-service community
hospital. Effective March 10, all joint programs between NYHQ and Flushing Hospital could
be null and void, and NYHQ employees working out of Flushing would be reassigned.
This is life or death for Flushing hospital,
and most residents hope it will be the former.
"There is definitely a need for the
hospital in the community," said Community Board 7 District Manager Marilyn
Bitterman. "All the beds are full and thats not going to change."