Shuttered Long Beach emergency room to reopen, Gov. Kathy Hochul says

John Asbury for Newsday

Originally published in Newsday

The Long Beach Emergency Department will resume 24-hour service Friday after closing because of a shortage of nurses vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Thursday.

The deal with Mount Sinai South Nassau, which operates the barrier island's only stand-alone emergency room, means an additional eight to 10 vaccinated nurses are on the way to avert a potential monthlong shutdown. The Oceanside based hospital system closed the facility Monday and it is set to reopen at 7 a.m. Friday.

"I will ensure the state does everything we can to alleviate the stress on hospitals and emergency care facilities — so health care facilities, please continue to alert us when you are struggling," Hochul said. "I want to thank Mount Sinai South Nassau and local community partners for working with us to restore ER services and continue providing high quality care to the residents of Nassau County."

Dr. Ahni Sharma, president of Mount Sinai South Nassau, said: "We are grateful for the support we received from so many individuals to make this happen and reopen for our community."

State and local leaders and Mount Sinai South Nassau asked the nursing unions to agree to additional staffing, said State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach).

"The important truth that our barrier island cannot afford to have this vital community asset shuttered meant that all parties had to come together to solve this issue and put residents first," Kaminsky said.

Nursing union representatives were not immediately available for comment Thursday night.

The emergency room requires two nurses on duty per shift, according to Kaminsky.

"This was not just a minor inconvenience, it is a major health issue for the barrier island. The residents here fought very hard to get a full-time ER and families were very scared and deserve to have emergency services in our community," Kaminsky said. "This was not something that was going to blow over in a few weeks."

Mount Sinai South Nassau officials announced Monday that they were closing the emergency department for several weeks because of the shortage of vaccinated nurses. The state mandate requires that all nursing staff have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of temporary religious exemptions, unless they have a valid medical exemption.

South Nassau officials said the state denied their request for an extension of the vaccine mandate so the hospital is working to hire additional vaccinated nurses in Long Beach during the next two weeks.

About 99% of South Nassau's 3,500 staff members are vaccinated, but they still face a nursing shortage, officials said. The hospital system fired about 10 employees last month who refused to get vaccinated and reviewed about 100 applications for exemptions, though none were granted.

The hospital’s main campus in Oceanside needed eight to 10 emergency room nurses. The vaccinated nurses at the Long Beach emergency room were then transferred to Oceanside.

Residents on the barrier island, which includes Point Lookout, Lido Beach and Atlantic Beach, were directed to travel 20 minutes over the Long Beach bridge to Oceanside for emergency service. The hospital did keep an ambulance at the closed Long Beach facility in case of emergencies.

Elected leaders and residents rallied against the closure of the emergency room, which serves about 10,000 patients annually.

Besides Kaminsky, Assemb. Missy Miller (R-Atlantic Beach), as well as Hempstead Town and Long Beach officials, urged the governor’s office to send additional staff to reopen the facility.

Miller said the closure had put patients at risk.

"I am grateful that Mount Sinai, the NYS DOH and Gov. Hochul heard our pleas and worked to find a solution to reopen this very much needed facility," Miller said in a statement.

Hempstead officials sent Hochul a letter Wednesday citing increased response times for medics as COVID-19 cases will likely increase during flu season.

"The now shuttered emergency room served residents residing across all corners of the barrier island," Hempstead Town officials said in a letter to Hochul. "The well-being of thousands of New Yorkers is at stake and we ask for your immediate attention to this issue."

After Thursday's announcement, Long Beach City Council President John Bendo praised the efforts that led to the emergency room's reopening.

"We thank Gov. Hochul and all our other elected officials for recognizing the urgency of the moment and the absolute need to have adequate emergency medical services on the barrier island," Bendo said in a statement. "Our productive and collaborative efforts, along with the strong advocacy of our citizenry resulted in the full restoration of these services. Today, we have much to be thankful for."