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Wed, 20 Apr 2005

DOC IN PUSH TO REOPEN HEMPSTEAD HOSPITAL - Daily News

DOC IN PUSH TO REOPEN HEMPSTEAD HOSPITAL
BY LAURA WILLIAMS
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

The doctor is taking his mission to the streets. Cardiologist Aubrey Lewis has tried for years to get local lawmakers behind his push to reopen Island Medical Center, the Hempstead hospital that was closed two years ago amid bankruptcy woes. Frustrated with politicians’ lack of action, Lewis last month kicked off a petition drive to pressure authorities to reopen the facility, which is commonly referred to as Hempstead General Hospital. "It’s time to stop talking and do something about it," Lewis said. He pointed to the disparity between the health statistics in Nassau County’s white and minority communities. "Uniondale, Hempstead, Freeport, New Cassell, Long Beach - these communities, in every high-risk disease you look at, you’ll see two to two-and-a-half times the documented [cases] than in surrounding [white] communities," said Lewis, 57. And because "the poor person’s hospital," Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, is difficult to get to, cases of high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and hypertension often go undiagnosed until the end stages, Lewis said. Lewis launched a rotating program of free health fairs in poor neighborhoods several years ago. Then Lewis - who also has a private practice in Merrick - opened a free clinic, the Coalition for Community Well-Being Inc., in Hempstead. "We found that 80% to 90% of the patients had one or more medical problems that we had to treat, and we had no place to follow up," Lewis said. What these patients needed, he said, was a hospital right in their community. So, he started talking to lawmakers, who all seemed enthusiastic. "But nobody did anything," he said. So, to bring attention to his fight to reopen the empty facility at 800 Front St., Lewis recently began conducting free health fairs in front of the building once a month - where he encourages people to sign his petition. "It’s a commitment," Lewis said. "I’ve dedicated this year to reopening the hospital."
At least one local lawmaker is taking notice. "The health disparities that exist in the minority community are real," said County Legislator Kevan Abrahams (D-Uniondale). "There are going to be obstacles, but this is a big enough issue that we can fight through the obstacles," he said, referring to getting the hospital reopened. Island Medical Center closed its doors in 2003. The for-profit hospital, founded in 1955, was plagued by bankruptcy during its later years.


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