BUSHWICK — The chief executive officer for Bushwick's Wyckoff Heights Medical Center was reportedly left scratching his head Monday after learning that the hospital's management planned to merge his hospital with two others — but the rep in charge of the oversight board told DNAinfo he had been told about the plans for months.
Ramon Rodriguez, Wyckoff Heights' chief executive officer, told Crain's New York Business that he was unaware of the application by the Brooklyn Hospital Center's application for a state grant to consolidate three Brooklyn hospitals into one by February 2014, until after it was submitted.
"To say we are involved in the application is strange," Rodriguez told Crain's. "How can an organization say we are involved when we are not?"
But the Brooklyn Hospital Center's Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Catherine Derr, said Rodriguez did know of the plan to combine The Brooklyn Hospital Center in Fort Greene, Interfaith Medical Center in Crown Heights, and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick into one healthcare system that would serve more than one million residents in north and central Brooklyn. The coalition would be funded and run through the HEAL-NY Phase-21 Grant, according to a press release from TBHC. The amount of funds required to combine the facilities has not been disclosed.
"For some time [Rodriguez] has been informed and well aware of our intention to submit the application for the integration of the three hospitals," Derr wrote in an email to DNAinfo.
A state task force already recommended the financially mired Wyckoff's closure last November.
The consolidation process will include financial organization, infrastructure development, and clinical changes, which will all be completed by February 2014, according to TBHC.
Richard Becker, President and CEO of TBHC, said the consolidation would help all the institutions come together to provide more effective service to the 1 million clients, more than half of those on Medicaid.
But Rodriguez maintained that TBHC's grant request neglected the leaders of Wyckoff Heights Medical Center. Meanwhile, local residents and advocacy groups fear the closure of Wyckoff Heights — a hospital employing 1800 staff and serving thousand of patients annually, according to its website — would leave the community in a dangerous bind.
In January, residents were already bracing for news of the center's closure, when hospital trustees revealed the the Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes was investigating Wyckoff's former chief officer, Rajiv Garg, for faulty management practices, including accepting inappropriate funds from the hospital.
The Brooklyn District Attorney's office confirmed an ongoing investigation, but would not provide specifics. There is no evidence that the investigation affected Wyckoff's proposed consolidation.
"Having Wyckoff Hospital close would be disastrous for our community," Theo Oshiro, Director of Health Advocacy and Support Services of the Bushwick nonprofit organization Make the Road New York, said in January. "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.
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, a regular hospital patient. "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.
"The communities are already under-served, there are not enough doctors or community based primary health care, and there are serious health statistics," said the Commission on the Public's Health System Director Judy Wessler earlier this year. "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."
And James Cameron, Chief Operating Officer of Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council and President of Buena Vida Continuing Care nursing home, has said the hospital cannot be shuttered.
"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."