It took years of calls and meetings between elected officials and the state Department of Health, but Westchester Square Medical Center has finally been saved from the chopping block in a deal that should keep it open permanently.
On Wednesday, September 29, word came from the DOH that Westchester Square Medical Center had been removed from the Berger Commission list, a Pataki-era task force convened to control health care costs.
The list recommended closure for the area’s last operating community hospital. Legislators and citizens, including the 700 or so workers who would have lost their jobs, and many others who had lobbied on behalf of the only hospital still operating in the service area of Community Board 10, breathed a sigh of relief.
Senator Jeff Klein was joined in the effort by Congressman Joseph Crowley and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, who lobbied both the state DOH and Governors Spitzer and then Paterson for keeping the community resource alive by granting it a permanent operating license.
The hospital was the only one in the state recommended for closure by the Berger Commission that did not close or merge. While the number of beds will be reduced from about 200 to 140, the integrity of the independent medical facility will be preserved.
“It is significant for two reasons,” Klein said. “The first is that this preserves the last of the concept of the community hospital in medical care. The second is jobs. There are currently about 700 workers at Westchester Square Medical Center.”
Klein called the decision to grant a permanent operating license important in keeping the hospital open for years to come. He said has been working to save WSMC since 2007.
“It is a great victory because the Department of Health finally heard our cries and pleas and did the right thing in keeping this community hospital open,” Klein stated.
Congressman Crowley joined Klein, Benedetto, Councilman Jimmy Vacca and the CEO of the hospital Alan Kopman in a celebration on Monday, October 4. They were joined by the staff of the hospital, including Dr. Louis Rose, whom Vacca said was like a “pit bull” in contacting people and informing them about the hospital’s value.
“After several conversations back and forth, Governor Paterson saw the benefit of keeping the hospital open,” Crowley said at the event.
Kopman reiterated his assertion of three years ago that WSMC would stay open.
Staffer Elisa Einbund, a cancer registrar at WSMC, stated that the possible closure of the hospital had raised a number of community concerns. These included how far patients would have to travel for medical care, and finding new primary care physicians who are affiliated with other hospitals outside of the community.
Now those fears have been assuaged.