By Carla Zanoni
WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Community residents and officials are reeling after receiving news that New York-Presbyterian Hospital (NYHP) is closing the area's only geriatric medical practice facility at the end of June without seeking any community input.
Community Board 12's health and environment committee voted on a resolution Thursday to urge the hospital to reverse its decision to close its Fort Washington Geriatric Practice, at 99 Fort Washington Ave., which has served the community since 1987 inside a New York City Housing Authority public housing building.
Councilman Robert Jackson and the Washington Heights-Inwood Council on the Aging also voiced opposition to the closure, the second closure of its kind in the past five years.
According to the board, when NYHP closed its Nagle Avenue facility in 2006, the hospital also failed to include the community in its decision process before filing an application with the state's Department of Health to close the facility.
"It's an insult to us that the hospital never spoke to us about the decision," said Maria Luna, a CB12 member and Washington Heights District Leader. "There could have been something done to investigate different sources of funding to keep it open."
Hospital officials, who were careful to label the move a "consolidation" of services, said the closure was necessary due to looming cuts in state funding, projected at $50 million through the end of 2011.
"We need to become more efficient, because of cuts being made," said NYHP's director of community health outreach and marketing Andres Nieto, who explained that the 99 Fort Washington Avenue practice would be moved into the hospital's Associates in Internal Medicine (AIM) Practice at 622 West 168th Street.
Although the doctors and nurse practitioner currently on staff at the geriatric practice will not relocate to the alternate space, NYHP officials said their positions will be refilled.
According to Rebecca Carel, executive director of Riverstone Senior Life Services, the social service group that shares space with NYHP at the Fort Washington practice, merely moving senior patients from one location to another can have a negative effect.
"When you disrupt health care for the elderly it has an impact on their health," she said, adding a list of concerns about logistics of the new practice such as accessibility for seniors with mobility issues, lack of senior-focused equipment to ease medical exams and the plan to not port the dental care facility at the Fort Washington practice.
NYHP officials stressed that these matters would not be taken lightly and the hospital is working to address the issues, but insisted that the move was imminent.
"In the long run, this is a benefit for the patients," NYHP's director of community affairs Julio Batista said.