Victory Memorial Hospital’s emergency room is still open, as of press time.
Contrary to published news reports and a public notice issued last week, the hospital’s emergency department did not close at 7 a.m. on Monday, May 19.
Hospital administrators had planned to “cease operations” at the ER and convert the site to an urgent care center on Monday morning.
But the plan stalled out late Friday when the hospital was instructed by the New York State Department of Health to keep the emergency room open.
“It’s been like a roller coaster,” said Ronald DeFranco, Victory’s administrator and chief operations officer.
The urgent care center would have operated initially from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., instead of the around-the-clock emergency room. Patients requiring hospital admission would be transported to another hospital.
As this paper went to press, DeFranco said it remained unclear when the switch to an urgent care facility would take place.
“It’s a work in progress,” DeFranco stated. “We are working diligently with the department of health.”
The century-old hospital at 699 92nd Street is bankrupt and is reportedly about $100 million in debt.
Victory’s ER and acute care facility are slated for closure by the Berger Commission, a state panel charged with saving tax dollars by reducing the number of empty hospital beds.
Under Berger, Victory will lose its operating license on June 30.
DeFranco said the administration wants to close the emergency room prior to the June 30 to save money.
“It’s all based on finances,” DeFranco said. “We don’t have the money to continue operating an emergency room.”
DeFranco said the reason that state health officials delayed the ER closure “had to do with ambulance coverage outside of the emergency department.”
The state health department did not provide a comment for this story before press time.
DeFranco said the state officials want the hospital to have an ambulance on standby outside of the urgent care facility, ready to transport patients to other hospitals if needed. But Victory Memorial officials contend they cannot afford to provide this service.
Last October, Victory Memorial landed a $25 million state grant to help the facility implement the Berger Commission recommendations, but DeFranco said none of that money has been released to the hospital.
While the emergency room remained open as of Tuesday afternoon, May 20, the hospital was on diversion, meaning that ambulances were not being received at the hospital.
Whether the hospital would remain on diversion or whether it would resume accepted ambulances was also unclear.
Until the health department and Victory Memorial resolve the apparent dispute, the emergency room remained open for walk-in patients.
“We’re still here to take care of the community,” said Dr. Robert Helman, Director of Emergency Medicine at Victory Memorial Hospital, speaking to this newspaper Monday afternoon.
Dr. Helman said the hospital continued to operate a “full service” emergency department.
Dr. Helman described the health department’s intentions as “ambiguous.”
“They didn’t give us a timeline of when we would end or when we would transition to an urgent care center—if we would at all,” Dr. Helman said.
“They said they did not want us to stop emergency services, even though they’ve been pushing us to close down as per the Berger Commission,” the ER director added. “So we thought we were going to transition, but as it turns out, we’re not.”
Currently, Victory Memorial is caring for about 30 patients. The facility has been winding down for the past several months in preparation for the eventual shutdown.
When it was fully operational, the hospital logged about 17,000 emergency room visits and performed 11,000 operations each year.
The state expects that once Victory closes, patients will use nearby hospitals like Lutheran Medical Center in Sunset Park or Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park.
Critics of the closure say these facilities are already overburdened.
Victory ER director Dr. Robert Helman predicted longer wait times at these hospitals once Victory closes.
“People who live in this community cannot afford to go fifteen or twenty minutes out of their way and then sit in the waiting room for eight to ten hours before being seen.” Dr. Helman stated. “People’s lives are at risk.”
The Victory Memorial property was auctioned back in March of this year.
According to hospital officials, Borough Park developer Abe Lesser has offered to buy the campus for nearly $45 million.
That sale, however, remains tentative as the bankruptcy court is yet to approve the sale.