Daily News Article Stirs Concerns

Is Coler Hospital Closing?

Updated 30 weeks ago David Stone
Is Coler Hospital Closing?
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

It may or may not really be news, but when the New York Daily News published a story about the possibility of Coler's closing, it raised immediate concerns. But not for the first time.

Judith Berdy isn't just Roosevelt Island's historian. Her many activities include volunteer work at Coler, no longer a hospital but a long term care facility.

"As a member of the Coler  Community Advisory Board for many years," she told The Daily, "we have heard the rumors many times. It may be that the lure of the real estate market is tempting the city."

New York City's Health & Hospital Corporation, which operates Coler, loses billions every year. Fiscal responsibility requires finding ways to better manage public dollars.

Is Coler Hospital Closing?

But Judy Wessler, a health advocate and former director of the city-wide Commission on the Public's Health, told the Daily News that despite HHC's poor finances, closing Coler is still "a terrible idea."

"You don't change what works. Coler works," she said. "There's gotta be a damn good reason to do it if it's going to be done."

What she means, as we reported last year, is that despite severe financial restraints placed on Coler for years, it's a 5-Star operation, according to Medicare, providing better care than similar facilities across the nation. 

Still, as Berdy points out, "The administration of Coler readily admits that the facility is out dated with 4 bedded rooms with no private facilities."

Is Coler Hospital Closing?

Its value was emphasized in recent investments.

"Coler  suffered severe damage in Hurricane Sandy," Berdy said, and the City spent $93,000,000 rebuilding the entire infrastructure. The hospital is in the zone for mandatory evacuation in case of another 100 year storm. In the meantime, all medical systems have  been rebuilt and are above the first floor, protecting the building from further damage."

It remains to be seen if there's real meat to this story. 

It's possible the Daily News, recently hit with severe staff reductions, had space to fill and did so with not so fresh reporting. But it also could be that Health & Hospitals used selective leaking to see what kind of reaction they'd get.

What's certain is that Coler's been under the gun for as long as most who follow news about health care funding remember. Health & Hospitals, when I worked with them a quarter century ago, was a money pit, notoriously mismanaged and regularly in the news in a negative way.

They've since cleaned up, but financial pressures on health care are nationwide and bound to get worse as long as the federal budget, which pays for a lot of Coler's expenses, rumbles along, accumulating increasingly massive deficits.

What if Coler closes?

As the Daily News makes clear, the land on which Coler sits has long been advertised for sale by the city. That's not news, which matters, because it means that serious buyers haven't surfaced.

It's hard to imagine what besides a public health care facility might draw investors to a location considered remote by Manhattan standards. Roosevelt Island, in general, is remote in the eyes of many New Yorkers, and Coler as well as its now vanished companion, Goldwater Hospital, were built here specifically to remove their operations from the core of the city.

The Daily News article repeats what's become an established mistake, saying the Goldwater closed "...to make way for the construction..." of Cornell Tech. The truth is that, facing pressures similar to those Coler now faces, Goldwater was being shuttered before Cornell Tech hit the horizon.

Cornell Tech was a blessing for the New York and Roosevelt Island because it paid for demolition of the abandoned hospital and replaced it with an admired model for developing contemporary technology.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer believes that, if Coler closes, the best reuse would be as affordable housing, fleshing out a progressive dream for the city.

Yet, it's questionable whether placing subsidized residents in a remote location sends the right signal. The goal of affordable housing, after all, is to blend all income levels in the general population.

And the location would be a hard sell for any real estate developer who'd be tasked with, not just building a high rise, but with persuading folks to live there. The Octagon, just south of Coler, took decades to find a developer and, in spite of the finest amenities on Roosevelt Island, depends crucially on RIOC's Red Bus support as well as hundreds of thousands spent annually to supplement it.

In the worst case scenario, Roosevelt Island would be left with an emptied out shell with no prospects for development. Cornell Techs don't drop out of the sky every day.

Berdy offered some additional context about Coler. 

"Coler opened in 1952 serving all who needed rehabilitation and/or long term medical care. It has remained a part of the NYC Health & Hospitals. Coler is one of four long term facilities in the city network. Coler has provided a home for hundreds of New Yorkers who have medical needs for long tern care. An important aspect of Coler is the wonderful care that dementia and Alzheimer's patients receive in specialized units. Coler has a devoted staff, many whom have worked there for decades. The Therapeutic Recreation Department and many others provide services to residents from arts program, poetry, music and many more.

"Coler has never had the recognition that Goldwater did, until it was closed in 2013. Coler is now licensed as a long term care facility, not a hospital."

Everyone we talked with hopes it stays that way, serving needy residents and making good use of community resources.


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