A seven year slide for WSMC

A seven year slide for WSMC
by Walter Pofeldt

Westchester Square Medical Center is history.

Sadly, it will mean the loss of jobs as it is converted as the east Bronx’s last full-service community hospital into an ambulatory surgery center and emergency department known as Montefiore Westchester Square.

The hospital has been on a roller coaster ride since being recommended for closure in 2006 by the Berger Commission.

The commission was established by Governor George Pataki to study how to modernize delivery of health care in New York State for the 21st Century.

Though the commission’s recommendation first sent shock waves through the hospital community, by April 2008 it appeared that WSMC had found a savior in the form of an affiliation with New York Presbyterian brokered by Congressmen Charlie Rangel and Joe Crowley.

This came at the urging of Senator Jeff Klein, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, and Councilman Jimmy Vacca.

“Not only would [closing] be difficult for us, but it would be a big loss for the community,” said Matteo Imperati, a employee at WSMC during a celebration in April 2008, when grateful hospital administrators presented elected officials with signed labcoats.

But that sense of optimism did not last very long.

When the economy tanked at the start of the Great Recession, the deal with NY Presbyterian fell through.

While the affiliation with the Manhattan-based hospital did materialize, merger plans were taken off the table in December 2008 after they had already been approved by the state Department of Health.

“Tough fiscal times have made it impossible for New York Presbyterian to continue with the merger as originally discussed,” Senator Jeff Klein said at the time. “However, I am committed to finding an appropriate hospital to partner with Westchester Square Medical Center.”

And he did try, but the state DOH also did cut the number of beds. At one point, in the early 1990s, there were about 200 beds at WSMC, while today there are officially 140, but staffing for only about 70, according to reports.

A new wellspring of hope came to pass in April 2009, when St. Barnabas Hospital in E. Tremont appeared to be in talks to purchase WSMC to operate some kind of medical facility there. But those negotiations had broken down by July 2009.

In September 2009, the Bronx County Medical Society began a campaign to save the hospital because it had the trust of the community and was a vital resource.

Later that month, WSMC got its operating license extended for a year. And then it was granted a permanent operating license late in 2010.

But the financial picture for the hospital never really recovered, and Montefiore announced in December 2012 that it would likely be buying the hospital.

The deal was finalized Jan. 24 when Montefiore won a bankruptcy court auction for the assets of WSMC.

Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at procchio@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3393

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