Key Brooklyn hospitals under threst of closure

Brooklyn’s hospitals are in a precarious state. Four of our borough’s 16 hospitals are failing and will close if not merged with other, more financially stable ones.

In late January, the New York State Office of Mental Health announced it was closing Kingsboro Psychiatric Center in East Flatbush, taking patients, their families and hospital employees by surprise.

A report issued by Stephen Berger for the NYS Commissioner of Health in November makes four radical suggestions for immediate change. The first is that Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick and Interfaith Medical Center in Crown Heights would lose their individual identities and integrate with Brooklyn Hospital Center in Fort Greene as the lead entity of the three.

Brooklyn Hospital Center itself emerged from bankruptcy in late 2007. Wyckoff and Interfaith are at risk of imminent financial collapse. Interfaith’s expenses are 29 percent higher than its income, according to the NYS Office of Health Systems Management, and many of Wyckoff’s former senior leadership and trustees are now being investigated for mismanagement of hospital funds and questionable business practices.

As for the benefits that Brooklyn Hospital Center might gain from this merger, a spokesperson cited the ability to offer increased quality of care while improving efficiency and gaining better revenues for the hospitals.

Second, Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in East Flatbush is to absorb Brookdale Hospital Medical Center in Canarsie. Brookdale currently has expenses exceeding its income by 10 percent, and restructuring its debt is essential to the success of this merger.

Kingsbrook, with a 1% profit margin, is stronger financially. This integration will increase Kingsbrook’s strength in obstetrics, pediatrics, trauma care, and cardiac catheterization services. Brookdale, in turn, gains access to Kingsbrook’s well recognized rehabilitation care and nursing homes.

The report also calls for Kingsboro Psychiatric to close its 290 in-patient beds, an action that was announced on January 31 and will be completed by early March.

Kingsboro Psychiatric is Brooklyn’s only long term care facility for the mentally ill. The typical length of stay is 183 days compared with 79 days in mental hospitals statewide. And the institution has had trouble both with patient violence, and two deaths due to delay in receiving medication.

The Kingsboro patients will be moved to South Beach Psychiatric in Staten Island.

SUNY Downstate Medical Center in East Flatbush, which took over Long Island College Hospital (LICH) in Cobble Hill last year, and Victory Memorial Hospital in Bay Ridge in 2008, was also targeted in the report.

The fourth recommendation, citing efficiency, calls for SUNY Downstate to consolidate its inpatient services at its LICH campus in Brooklyn Heights, and close its East Flatbush campus, which is across the street from Kings County Hospital and a few blocks away from Kingsbrook Jewish. The report strongly urges no additional expansion at the former Victory site in Bay Ridge.

The Brooklyn Medicare Redesign Team’s report states that 30 percent of Brooklyn’s 6,400 hospital beds are empty on any given day and should be eliminated. It also states that expanding the availability of preventive medical care is key to reducing the number of costly emergency room visits by Brooklynites with no insurance — people hospitals may not turn away, and to whom treatment must be provided at no cost.

Celia Weinthrob is publisher of The Brooklyn Paper, a CNG publication.

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