What can be done to fix the healthcare crisis in our borough of Queens? It is a fact that waiting times in all Queens Emergency Rooms exceed 18 hours, the borough is over 1,000 inpatient beds short, and patients can wait in hallways up to three days before being moved to their rooms. With this said, are we living in a third world country? Queens is one of the largest counties in the state, if not the country by density of population and our healthcare services are considered the worst by any measurable standard. We are a swine flu or terrorist attack away from an epic disaster. Doesn’t anyone realize this or even care?

Why all the skepticism regarding Parkway Hospital, even today more then two years after its forced closing due to the Berger Commission? Parkway passed Joint Commission successfully and was on the road to being a center of excellence before disgraced Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio walked into Parkway’s shadow and demanded monies. Parkway had investor dollars infused from a private source back in 2006 when the state, through the Berger Commission ruling, issued the CLOSE ORDER for a “for profit” institution even though this meant reversing the Regional Advisory Committee recommendation of “keep open for two years then review,” something that to this day still has not been clarified or explained by the Department of Health.

Dr. Robert Aquino purchased the Parkway facility back in July of 2004 and began an arduous task of turning around a very badly run facility by agreeing to pay back IRS taxes, property taxes, union dues and creditor monies that the original owners neglected to the tune of approximately $20 million. As a stand alone community hospital, Parkway Hospital waded in a piranha pool of much larger healthcare networks located in Queens where Medisys or Continuum or LIJ / North Shore just waited patiently to inflict a calculated death bite to any newcomer or competitor.

Four Queens Hospitals Close

Since 2007, four major hospitals have been closed in Queens; three voluntarily and one was forced to close. Of these four facilities, two of those that were closed voluntarily have been gutted and their properties sold off to developers for non-healthcare related projects while the other has been turned into a detox facility.

What is very interesting to note is that two of these facilities, St. John’s & Mary Immaculate, were given an excess of $60 million of state funds to remain open before they were closed and none of these funds were returned after they were liquidated. Why were the CEOs of these “not-for-profit” entities paid millions of dollars to basically act in such an intolerable business manner? How could the Department of Health allow them to file for Chapter 11 reorganization then within days flip this to a Chapter 7 liquidation and closure without demanding accountability? It is very apparent that they cared more about hiding what they collectively did with these millions of dollars of state funds than they cared about the quality of healthcare for the people of Queens.

DOH Ignores Proposal to Keep St. John’s & Mary Immaculate open

In another interesting twist, Parkway Hospital tried to help the Queens community even while it was being forced to close by offering the Caritas Board of Directors and Chairman of the Board Emil Rucigay $100 million of private funds to remain open. The plan was to redistribute the inpatient beds and specialty medical services between the three medical facilities which in turn would have kept Parkway, St. John’s and Mary Immaculate open. Dr. Aquino and his financial backer understood back in 2008 that by making these three facilities medical centers of excellence, in cardiology, OB/GYN, Psych and Trauma that he could easily turn these facilities around and keep them from closing.

Unfortunately, the Board of Caritas prevented Dr. Aquino’s investor from doing his or her due diligence and despite complaints to the Department of Health, no actions were ever taken to remedy the situation. A few weeks later Caritas declared Chapter 11 and then Chapter 7 all under the watchful eyes and authority of the Department of Health, Jim Clyne and Dennis Whelan, who approved the transfer of $60 million in unaccountable funds to Caritas. Tom Singleton, a medical consultant from the Huron Group, was paid over $1 million a month for consulting services from Caritas, and he did nothing to stop this travesty as well. The doctors and nurses of Caritas even rallied and went to the house of Emil Rucigay to force him to listen to the offer made by Dr. Aquino but he refused to come to the door and listen to a single word of theirs. The private investor adequately demonstrated proof of funds at Gloria D’Amico’s office after Dr. Aquino had a meeting with Tom Singleton at Mary Immaculate Hospital by having the investor send a financial commitment package for this $100 million earmarked for Parkway, St. John’s and Mary Immaculate. It all ties together because the FBI transcripts released during the Anthony Seminerio trial has Seminario, Rosen and Whelan discussing how they do not want Dr. Aquino getting Caritas because “he never went into his pocket for a penny.” In the end, Seminerio wanted Rosen to take Caritas over because he promised Medisys more Department of Health funds to support their operations. Things took a bad turn at this point when indictments were issued for Anthony Seminerio so Medisys stopped their offer and these two “safety net” hospitals (labels applied by the Regional Advisory Committee to the Berger Commission) were forced to close.

Reopen Parkway Hospital Now!

As penance for these bad acts, I would suggest that everyone today realize one thing: Mr. Seminerio is resting in a peaceful place not plagued by guilt and not able to speak to anyone any more. With that said, this wrong can be righted by reopening at least one hospital facility immediately to get Queens back on the right track. If every politician today screamed out in support of the reopening of Parkway Hospital then it will not matter much what happened in the past. I truly believe that the 2.2 million people of Queens will forgive Mr. Seminerio and he will finally rest in peace knowing that his corrupt actions have finally been undone. Putting Parkway Hospital back online can be accomplished in 120 days utilizing no federal, state or city funds. It can hire over 1,000 people in this time period and can put 251 acute care inpatient beds back online. It will infuse back to the city and state an excess of $5 million in sales and real estate taxes while adding a 20 bed emergency room into a community where 18 hour wait times are the norm. It will offer much needed medical services such as seven operating rooms, advanced radiology, lab, ICU, CCU and more servicing communities such as Forest Hills, Rego Park, Woodside, Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Middle Village, Glendale, Maspeth and Woodhaven. All of these communities have not experienced quality patient care over the past decade and more. In addition, having this facility come back online is critical in case of a terrorist attack or medical emergency. It is located half way between both LaGuardia and Kennedy and across from Flushing Meadow Park Lake (the only fresh water supply in all of New York City). In case of a disaster, you can land helicopters in the park, you can triage people and move them around quickly since Queens Blvd, LIE, Van Wyck and Grand Central Parkway are all within minutes from this facility.

In the past the people of Queens did not understand that Parkway was still viable and only 120 days away from potentially reopening its doors with private funds. Parkway Hospital is waiting for the political winds to change and we urge everyone reading this to call their local elected officials and demand to be heard. I need you to call Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, Congressman Anthony Weiner, Senator Shirley Huntley, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Department of Health today and simply ask one simple question: “Can you endorse this project and make the general public aware that it is possible to reopen this facility immediately?” It is up to you, the general public, to ask this of our elected officials because Parkway Hospital is simply waiting for its operating license to be returned today.

The writer, John Krall is CEO Pegasus Health Restoration