Twenty months after Sandy, South Nassau Urgent Care Center at Long Beach opened July 1, marking the first step in replacing the barrier island’s only hospital that closed down after the storm.
It’s a starting point for an island with more than 50,000 residents that only has one other local urgent care facility to treat patients suffering from non-life-threatening ailments and injuries, forcing more serious cases to be taken to mainland Long Island hospitals. South Nassau Communities Hospital (SNCH) of Oceanside opened the new clinic next to the defunct Long Beach Medical Center (LBMC), most of which SNHC acquired after LBMC went bankrupt this year. SNCH also plans to open a freestanding, 24-hour 911-emergency receiving facility, pending New York State approval—but residents are concerned it’s not happening fast enough.
“Looking back a year and a half ago, I can’t tell you how difficult it’s been trying to develop the plan and a process going forward to bring a facility like this online,” Richard Murphy, president and CEO at SNCH, said during the ribbon cutting last week.
The state Department of Health (DOH) helped negotiate the deal in which SNCH purchased LBMC in federal bankruptcy court. SNCH acquired LBMC’s land, buildings and equipment—but the LMBC’s nursing home, Komanoff Center for Geriatric and Rehabilitative Medicine, was acquired by another bidder.
Once having a staff of more than 1,200, LMBC had financial trouble even before Sandy. LBMC officials had repeatedly said that they would reopen after the storm—they even received $20 million in federal funds for repairs—but they still couldn’t afford to fix the damage. It is the last hospital in New York and New Jersey damaged in the 2012 storm to still be fully closed.
SNCH’s new $3.36 million urgent care clinic, which was shipped from Raleigh, North Carolina, was funded by a $6.6 million grant. The rest of the money will cover the reparations for staff, clinical services, equipment, supplies and other start-up costs.
The 4,700-square-foot facility on Easy Bay Drive is equipped to handle head injuries, abdominal pain, orthopedic injuries (fractures), respiratory distress, heart attacks, strokes and lacerations. It houses 10 private examination rooms, two procedure rooms, radiology imaging and laboratory suites, with two ambulances bays.
“If there’s a life-threatening emergency, then we will handle it, but that’s not our primary mission today,” said Dr. Joshua Kugler, chairman of South Nassau’s department of emergency medicine.
Long Beach Island residents are concerned that the facility is just a small bandage on a major wound. Even though many agree the center is a step in the right direction, community watchdogs said that it’s not enough for an island that swells with more than 100,000 visitors in the summer.
“We have to have a facility that meets the needs of the community,” said Pyllis Libutti of the Beach to Bay Central Council of Civic Associations (BBCCA), which has been calling for the return of a full-service hospital. “If there’s traffic, our emergency responders can’t get to us in time and we can’t get to a hospital.”
Many complain that hours of the facility don’t work on an island that is also known for its nightlife crowd. The facility’s hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
“I’m happy that this is here, it’s better than nothing, but it’s no way near what’s needed on the island,” said Barbara Bernardino, another member of the BBCC, which is still trying to push the process along. The group’s motto is: “Every day that is lost, a life is at risk.”
Officials urged the civic leaders to have patience.
“For those people who are very unhappy, we’re working to make it a 24-hour facility,” said Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach). “It’s going to happen, but you know we have to go through the process.”
The planned 24-hour 911 emergency center will cost an estimated $220 million, which SNCH anticipates will receive $139 million in storm recovery grants for the new building.
SNCH plans to host a forum with community leaders, the DOH, City of Long Beach and Nassau County officials for the development of a long-term plan. Among the problems facing the old LMBC are continued saltwater intrusion from Reynolds Channel, a need for safety equipment upgrades and environmental hazards such as asbestos and mold.
Murphy, SNCH’s CEO, predicted that planning could take up to a year before repairs begin.
“The engineering on this facility that needs to be done to determine its future will be a six-to-12-month undertaking,” he said.