They Say This Isn't About Finances; It Should Be About Healthcare, Convenience

LONG BEACH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The barrier island of Long Beach is taking steps forward this summer in its Hurricane Sandy recovery.

Churches, beaches, and the boardwalk have all slowly reopened.

But not it’s only hospital. Upset resident told CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan on Friday their lives are more important than a fight over finances.

“We must have quick care. And it could take 40-50 minutes to get to the nearest hospital — that is South Nassau, and that is unacceptable,” homeowner Betty Barto said.

Barto, who due to her condition is on oxygen, lives on the far west side of Long Beach – and worries.

Just after Thanksgiving, the Federal Emergency Management Agency left with its mobile hospital tents. The state then pulled its emergency room trailers. That means Long Beach Medical Center is the last remaining hospital in New York and New Jersey damaged by Sandy to still be fully closed.

“It’s just a sin that this tug-of-war is going on,” Barto said.

Even before the hurricane hit, Long Beach Medical Center had financial problems. It had been bleeding cash for years, blamed on lower admissions and Medicaid reimbursement.

So, although the emergency room is now finally repaired, state approval to receive patients remains on hold.

“As you can see, the emergency department is ready to reopen, the medical center has made all the necessary restoration,” Long Beach Medical Center spokeswoman Sharon Player said.

Multiple ambulances are now on 24-hour standby, but emergency workers have been taking patients involved in boating or swimming accidents to an ER in the neighboring village of Oceanside or beyond. South Nassau Communities Hospital has seen visits jump 40 percent, officials said.

“We are very well prepared for volume surges, such as the one we’ve seen. Not that it hasn’t been stressful, but we certainly have met the need for the community.” Said South Nassau ER Chief Dr. Joshua Kugler.

Still, Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman said he is fighting to get his hospital – and its 1,200 jobs – back. With a summer population swelling from 35,000 to 50,000, he said it’s about safety and the City Council has penned a letter to the state commissioner of health.

“Asking him to use his emergency powers to expedite reopening the emergency room as a 911 receiving facility,” Schnirman said.

McLogan was told state officials won’t allow the reopening until “the medical center comes up with a better financial plan.” The state is now brokering a possible merger with South Nassau Communities Hospital. In the meantime, uncertainty in Long Beach continues.

Residents said even if there is an eventual hospital merger, they want their emergency room reopened immediately.

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