FOR BREAKING NEWS VISIT WWW.QNS.COM APRIL 2, 2020 • HEALTH • THE QUEENS COURIER 25
File photo/Liam La Guerre
The former St. John’s Queens Hospital on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst is shown in this 2014 photo
after it was redeveloped.
People wait in line to be tested for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while wearing protective gear,
outside Elmhurst Hospital Center on March 25, 2020.
People wait in line to be tested for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while wearing protective gear
outside Elmhurst Hospital Center on March 25, 2020.
Demise of three Queens hospitals 11 years ago
adds to pain of borough’s coronavirus tragedies
BY ROBERT POZARYCKI
More than a decade ago, the densely
packed neighborhood of Elmhurst —
with a population of over 88,000 in a
1.1-square-mile area — was served by two
major medical centers. Only one of them
remains in operation today.
Elmhurst Hospital Center, now called
NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst, is currently
inundated amid the coronavirus
epidemic hitting the city. In recent days,
thousands have lined up outside the medical
center, at the corner of Broadway and
Baxter Avenue, to get tested for COVID-
19. Th ousands more have been rushed
there in search of treatment from the illness.
Th e situation took a particularly grim
turn Wednesday, when it was reported that
13 coronavirus patients died at the hospital
in a single day. Th ere were additional
reports that staff is overwhelmed by the
number of patients seeking care, and that
r e s o u r c e s are running low.
Elmhurst Hospital has been the closest and
only refuge for Elmhurst residents in need
of medical help — but the hospital also
serves the surrounding, dense communities
of Jackson Heights, Corona, Woodside
Prior to February 2009, the Elmhurst
area also had the services of St. John’s
Queens Hospital, formerly located at 90-02
Queens Blvd. It was founded in 1891 by the
Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph and remained
in the hands of the Catholic Church for
most of its existence.
But fi nancial turmoil doomed St. John’s
in 2009 along with an affi liated hospital,
Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica. Th e
twin closures came months aft er another
nearby medical center, Parkway Hospital
in Forest Hills, also closed its doors amid
Th e three closures left Elmhurst Hospital
as the primary source for emergency care
in much of western Queens. In the decade
that followed, emergency room visits continued
And just when the hospital was
s e t t o
begin a long awaited expansion of the
emergency department, the plague of the
21st century arrived at its doorstep.
Up until 2006, St. John’s Hospital had
been operated by the St. Vincent’s Catholic
Medical Centers. Along with serving
Elmhurst, it was also a preferred medical
destination for other western Queens
neighborhoods including Glendale,
Maspeth, Middle Village, Rego Park,
Corona and Forest Hills.
St. Vincent’s fi led for bankruptcy in
2006 due to mounting debts in operating
its medical facilities. Th e debts, like
those incurred by many other medical centers
nationwide, were the result of rising
costs combined with lack of payment from
uninsured patients, or slow reimbursement
from health insurance companies
or government agencies for care provided.
It was reported that both St. John’s and
Mary Immaculate were running operating
losses of up to $4 million a month.
During its bankruptcy proceeding, St.
Vincent’s sold St. John’s and another hospital
in Queens that it owned — Mary
Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica — for up
to $50 million to Wyckoff Heights Medical
Center, located on the Brooklyn/Queens
border near Ridgewood.
Wyckoff management created an
off -shoot organization called Caritas
Health Care to operate St. John’s and
Mary Immaculate. Caritas had made
promises to invest capital in updating
the hospitals so they could compete
with other medical centers across
But Caritas soon found itself in the same
economic trouble that St. Vincent’s had.
Th e outfi t was unable to restructure the
massive debt. Th e timing of the situation
didn’t help matters; the economy slumped
amid the Great Recession that hit between
2007 and 2009.
A closure crisis
On Feb. 6, 2009, Caritas fi led for bankruptcy,
and the organization announced
it intended to close St. John’s and Mary
Immaculate in 30 days time. Th e hospitals
were saddled with more than $100 million
in combined debt.
Of the debt, Caritas owed close to $60
million to the New York State Dormitory
Authority, which had provided loans just
to keep them in operation.
Late in 2008, Parkway Hospital closed
doors amid its own fi nancial troubles.
Suddenly, Queens was on the verge of losing
Th at prospect raised alarm across the
borough. Local elected offi cials scrambled
to avoid — or at least deal with — the
impending loss of the combined 216 hospital
beds and 1,600 hospital jobs at St. John’s
and Mary Immaculate Hospitals.
A week later, on Feb. 13, both St. John’s
and Mary Immaculate were ordered not
to accept any emergency room patients, a
precursor to a hospital’s closure. Almost
immediately, that led to a spike in patients
at other nearby hospitals across Queens,
including Elmhurst Hospital.
Th e closures of St. John’s and were ultimately
approved by the state Department
of Health, which promised relief for other
Queens medical centers impacted by the
decision. Th at included a $3.6 million
grant to the New York City Health and
Hospitals Corporation to expand emergency
room services and inpatient capacity
at both Elmhurst and Queens Hospital
Months later, then-Queens Borough
President Helen Marshall released an
“autopsy” report on the closure of the three
medical centers. Th e report outlined that
even though Caritas had been working to
pay down the debts on St. John’s and Mary
Immaculate, the hospitals were still getting
SEE HOSPITALS, P. 28