A hospital emergency department in the Hudson Valley is set to close in October. However, state officials must still approve the closure and a few elected officials are pushing for denial of the hospital’s request.
St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital in Orange County, which serves some 250,000 patients annually, plans to close the emergency department at its Cornwall facility October 1. The hospital delivered the news to the public in late July, citing a steady decline in need over seven years. Hospital officials said the emergency department in Cornwall saw an average of fewer than two patients per hour in 2015. Of those, fewer than one in 10 needed hospitalizations, which occur on the main campus in Newburgh. New York state Senator William Larkin recently wrote to state Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker outlining reasons for DOH to reject St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital’s application to close the Cornwall emergency department. Brian Maher is spokesman for Larkin.
“One thing that was extremely important to Senator Larkin that he stressed in his letter was the fact that there are no urgent care centers that will be open 24/7.,” Maher says. “And, there are certain individuals in certain areas, specifically in the Town of Highlands but, all over the place, really, who will have real problems getting emergency care should this emergency room close.”
He says the Republican senator’s letter resulted in a call three days later prompted by Zucker.
“The senator and Commissioner Zucker are personal friends and the return call was something that we found as a really positive step towards potentially creating some solutions to the issues we’re having,” says Maher.
He says Larkin was assured during that call that DOH had not yet rendered a decision. A Department of Health spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment in time for this broadcast. In a statement, a St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital spokeswoman says, in part, “We understand the important history of St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital’s Cornwall Emergency Department as well as the community’s sadness over its closure. We know this next chapter is crucial for our system to continue delivering high quality, accessible care, and staff is available to answer any questions residents have. We will host educational sessions throughout the region over the next several weeks to address access to care and navigating local health care.”
Democratic Assemblyman James Skoufis less than a week ago also penned a letter and had a call scheduled with DOH.
“I sent a letter to the Department of Health signed by 16 other elected officials in the Cornwall ER service area – mayors, supervisors, county legislators.” Skoufis says. “And we outlined all the points to DOH about why this is a bad idea and why, in fact, they should reject St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital’s application.”
“The hospital’s mission is to save lives and take care of people, and this is antithesis to that,” Skoufis says.
Hospital officials in a July release say that closing the Cornwall emergency department would result in a $3.2 million improvement on the hospital’s bottom line. Meanwhile, Maher says Larkin is looking for solutions.
“And I think one thing that distinguishes the senator with his outreach is he’s really going out of his way to find some potential solutions as opposed to simply saying, keep it open,” Maher says. “And we want to work with the New York state Department of Health to find potential solutions and the hospital as well, so that we can really serve the residents the way they need to be served.”
Skoufis says he and those who signed the letter are exploring every option to keep the emergency department open, including whether closing it would violate deeds from the 1920s.
“The Stillman family, an old Cornwall family, deeded over the property and the buildings to the hospital, basically a donation, but part of that donation was a stipulation that the hospital always be maintained as the Cornwall Hospital,” says Skoufis. “And I think there’s an argument to be made that the exact opposite is happening and they’re dismantling the former Cornwall Hospital piece by piece.”
In 2002, St. Luke’s Hospital and The Cornwall Hospital merged, forming St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital. Three years ago, Larkin, Skoufis and others fought against reducing the Cornwall emergency department to part time. The hospital withdrew its application for that change.