A state board has given the go-ahead to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center for a $155 million effort to expand and modernize its emergency department — expanding from one trauma bay to eight. 

The project recommended for approval last week by the state Public Health and Health Planning Council will vastly increase the capacity of the only level-one trauma center in southern Queens.

This “financially distressed safety-net hospital [that] serves a predominantly minority local population,” as New York State described it earlier this year, is the go-to facility for the three NYPD precincts with the most shootings in Queens.

The state-funded ER expansion could make a life-or-death difference in an area where an analysis by The Trace and Measure of America, in partnership with THE CITY, found gunshot victims are more likely to die than people shot anywhere else in the five boroughs.

As other hospitals in the area closed, “Jamaica Hospital was able to fit and service it for people the way their flow was 30 years ago,” said AU Hogan, the Chief of Streets for LIFE Camp, a nonprofit in southeast Queens that runs gun violence intervention programs. “It has doubled the amount of emergency visits.”

Hogan said that LIFE Camp has often helped fill the gaps by dispatching responders to hospitals, who facilitate interactions between the families of gun violence victims and medical staff. That’s in addition to sending out violence interrupters to mediate and deter potential retaliatory shootings. 

He pointed to three shootings that occurred “at the same time, same place” in 2019 in Rosedale — about 35 minutes away from Jamaica Hospital. All three victims died, he said, because they could not receive the critical care they needed in a timely manner.

“I don’t know if that’s an indication of the world becoming more violent and people getting more sick,” Hogan said of the uptick in emergency visits and the consequent need for expansion.“Whatever it is, it will at least address the things that are happening right now.”

New York state is funding the ER construction with a $150 million grant Gov. Kathy Hochul announced in February. The trauma bays will be located in a 48,534-square-foot building comprising three stories and a basement where a doctors’ parking lot currently sits.

The plan, awaiting signoff from state Acting Health Commissioner James McDonald, will increase the number of treatment bays to 57 enclosed units, in place of the 27 curtained ones there now. It will also add two new critical care units, with 22 new intensive care beds, in addition to the 26 such beds currently there. 

Construction on the project is supposed to begin on or before Sept. 13, and be completed by January 2027.

“Over the past few years, there has been an increasing amount of gun violence throughout the city and in our community. As a level one trauma center, we receive patients and the victims of those,” Jamaica Hospital spokesperson Michael Hinck told THE CITY Thursday. “We’re excited to be able to add this additional ER space for our community.”

‘This is Going to Save Lives’

The NYPD’s 113th and 103rd Precincts, which serve Jamaica, had the most shootings of any area in the borough between 2012 and 2022, according to an analysis of the most recent NYPD data by THE CITY. The 101 precinct, covering the Rockaways, was third. 

Jamaica Hospital also serves as the primary hospital for parts of East New York, home to the precinct with the most shootings of any in New York City, as well as the Rockaways, an area with no trauma care facility. In fact, every neighborhood in the Rockaway peninsula is at least a three-mile drive away from its closest trauma center.

The 2019 analysis by The Trace and Measure for America found that a three-mile distance to a trauma center increases the gunshot fatality rate by 27% compared to incidents that occur within one mile.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Health, Cadence Acquaviva, highlighted the benefit for the peninsula. “The state investment in Jamaica Hospital Medical Center’s emergency department … will provide a significant benefit to the Rockaway neighborhood, as the area’s closest Level 1 Trauma Center serving a predominately minority local population in Queens,” said Acquaviva.

‘Your Life Matters’

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who formerly represented part of the Rockaways in the City Council, noted how the already under-resourced hospital has had to bear the brunt of the area’s health care work, with “at least seven” hospital closures in the borough in recent years.

“This has been an institution — I don’t want to say under siege — but certainly where the workers in this hospital do God’s work every day.” 

Donovan Richards Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Now. Richards said, “We’re investing in these communities that have been historically disinvested in… The redevelopment of this trauma, ER expansion — this is going to save lives.”

The current emergency department at Jamaica Hospital was built 30 years ago and has the capacity to handle 60,000 yearly visits, according to a summary overview presented to the state health council. Visits have consistently exceeded that threshold, topping 110,000 annually in the years prior to the COVID pandemic. 

The hospital’s trauma center “had 2,007 activations in 2021,” the summary noted. 

Richards has a personal connection to Jamaica Hospital’s emergency trauma care. He recalled how a close childhood friend, Darnell Patterson, was shot and killed when Richards was 18 years old.

“He was 19 at the time, and that’s the hospital he had to go to — the place where he, you know,” Richards said. “So you get shot in southeast Queens? That’s where you’re going.” 

The expansion of the trauma unit, he said, “is really about telling the people of Southeast Queens, the people of Jamaica, Queens, the people at the Rockaways, that ‘Your life matters. Totally, yes, you deserve these investments. Right on, you shouldn’t have to leave your neighborhood to see them.’”