BUSHWICK — An investigation of the struggling Wyckoff Heights Medical Center has got some Bushwick residents worried they will lose crucial care.
The Brooklyn District Attorney's office launched an investigation into the management practices of Wyckoff, which employs about 1800 staff members and serves thousands of people annually, including low-income and uninsured patients, according to the hospital's website.
The current investigation was sparked by reports that the former head of the hospital used his expense account to pay for a first class plane ticket and a vacation to London, as well as a holiday party at the Lamb's Club.
That, combined with a state task force recommendation this November that the hospital should merge with two others, has sparked fears of imminent closure.
"Having Wyckoff Hospital close would be disastrous for our community," said Theo Oshiro, Director of Health Advocacy and Support Services of the Bushwick nonprofit organization Make the Road New York. "The hospitals are completely concentrated in Manhattan and often we have chronically uninsured people having to travel there for care."
Oshiro said his clients had voiced no noteworthy criticisms about the hospital, other than the typical complaints about long waits in the emergency room.
Wyckoff Hospital would not comment on whether the center will be merged or closed soon, and the State Department of Health did not return requests for information. A spokesperson for Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes would not confirm or deny the investigation, which was reported in the Times last week.
Make the Road already rallied this summer with other local groups against the closure of the hospital, which they said would leave patients without critical options for care.
"I don’t know what I’d do without it," said patient Prestina Gonzalez, 27, as she walked out of Wyckoff with her young son Monday. "I stayed here for two months before I even gave birth here. I take both my kids here."
And Wyckoff visitor Allen Rastoder said he "could not even think about" the hospital where his mother has undergone cancer treatment for the past five years closing its doors.
Advocates said they support an investigation into questions about whether the hospital's recently-dismissed executive director Rajiv Garg used his expense account as his personal piggy bank.
The Commission on the Public's Health System Director Judy Wessler said she supported the investigation, and hoped the board of trustees' decision to remove Garg would shield the institution from harm.
"If there are serious wrongdoings, there will be repercussions," said Wessler. "If that guy is really bad he needed to be removed," she added. "Still, it's a troubling time."
She said if the hospital was forced to take a merger, it would leave a huge gap in care for local residents.
"The communities are already underserved, there are not enough doctors or community based primary healthcare, and there are serious health statistics," she said. "If you're going to make any changes there you have to make sure that residents of those communities have access to community based primary care services. That is not the case right now."
But James Cameron, Chief Operating Officer of Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council and President of Buena Vida Continuing Care nursing home, said he has confidence that the investigation will not further jeopardize the hospital's presence.
"The CEO was put aside, they have a new CEO. They'll straighten it out," he said about the hospital's current adminitration.
"The care they provide for residents of our nursing home is excellent," he said. "As a service to the community, it's absolutely essential to keep it going."