health mind and body

Renewed Far Rockaway hospital in 5 Towns push


At least two people who were born at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway attended what amounted to the health care facility’s relaunch last month, celebrating the official openings of an attractive new lobby, a full-service pharmacy, a café, and a non-denominational reflection room.

“Being born in this hospital, I am connected to this building, this footprint,” said Assemblywoman Stacy Pheffer Amato, who represents the area. “This community was deprived of quality health care, and you have brought that back to us.”

Lifelong Inwood resident Roy Meserole, 84, added, “I was born here, and I’m happy it’s still serving the community. The hospital was able to get through turbulent times.”

Amato and Pheffer joined a crowd that packed the new lobby on 20th Street — Far Rockaway’s continuation of Central Avenue — to celebrate the renewal of the only hospital located in the Rockaways since the 2012 closing of Peninsula Hospital. St. John’s is also the closest hospital to the Five Towns which abut Far Rockaway.

The hospital has been stepping up its outreach to the Five Towns, recently adding a Shabbos elevator and a kosher respite room. Kosher food, supervised by a mashgiach, was available at the celebration.

“This is a far cry from when I walked into this lobby four and a half years ago and saw the dreaded ‘hut’,” said the hospital’s chief executive officer, Gerard Walsh. The hut was an aesthetically challenged combination gift shop and eatery.

“Our big mission is to have a new strategy for St. John’s to improve the patient and customer experience,” Walsh said, adding that another goal is to ensure the hospital’s financial viability.

“Four and half years ago we were managing no grants,” Walsh said. “Today we’re managing close to $40 million in grants.”

The money is being put to work as St. John’s continues renovations of its emergency department, which began shortly after Peninsula Hospital closed and the number of people using the department — which was built to accommodate 15,000 a year — jumped to more than 40,000. When finished, the emergency department will measure 22,000 square feet, nearly twice the size of its original 12,500 when it was built in 1950. Walsh said the project was “well on its way to being completed” and should open in the spring.

The final planning for what hospital officials describe as a comprehensive women’s center, on 105th Street in Rockaway Park, is nearing completion as well.

At its Far Rockaway campus, St. John’s plans to build a 3,850-square-foot radiation oncology center, the first in the Rockaways since Peninsula closed, and is renovating its labor and delivery area. Additional plans include new consultation, exam and patient dressing rooms, state-of-the-art equipment, and the Rockaways’ only linear accelerator. The device uses high-energy X-rays or electrons to destroy cancer cells without harming the surrounding healthy tissue.

Meanwhile, a primary care and behavioral health services center is rising across the street from the hospital. It will encompass breast surgery, cancer screening, fetal medicine, mammography and bone density scanning, nutrition, routine and subspecialty gynecological and obstetrical care, ultrasound, urogynecology and the treatment of high-risk obstetric patients.

“I remember 10 years ago, being the newly consecrated bishop of the [Episcopal] diocese and therefore the chairman of the board of St. John’s Hospital,” Bishop Lawrence Provenzano said, “coming through the old doors and walking into what was then the lobby, and my first thought was, ‘This can’t continue’.”

The ribbon-cutting pictured in the accompanying photo was outside the hospital’s new entranceway that features revolving doors leading into a wider, well-lit and creatively designed lobby. Ribbons were also cut at the lobby’s Seaside Café, which includes a gift shop and sells Starbucks drinks; at a reflection room that is open for meditation and services by various faiths, and at a pharmacy that’s been operating since May.

As patients are discharged, the pharmacy will fill their prescriptions and deliver them before they leave. Using the federal 340B Drug Pricing Program, the hospital can offer medications at substantially reduces prices and the pharmacy is open to non-patients, Walsh explained.

Originally established as St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1905, the facility served as the South Shore Division of Long Island Jewish Hospital from 1973 to 1976.

The Church Charities Foundation, the forerunner of Episcopal Health Services, assumed stewardship in 1976, and renamed it St. John’s Episcopal Hospital. Episcopal Health Services took over 11 years later.