Aug. 1, 2023 By John Schilling
Elected officials gathered with hospital executives and team members in Far Rockaway last week for a street naming ceremony in honor of St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, the peninsula’s lone hospital that has served the community for the last 118 years.
The hospital, which first opened as St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1905, was renamed St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in 1976. With last week’s ceremony, the name is now emblazoned on a nearby street sign on the corner of Beach 20th Street and Brookhaven Avenue that reads “St. John’s Episcopal Hospital Way.”
“Normally, we don’t name streets after institutions. We name them after individuals after they have passed,” NYC Council Majority Whip Selvena N. Brooks-Powers said during the ceremony. “But [with] the role that St. John’s played in the midst of the pandemic, it was no question that this institution deserved to have a street named after it.”
In March 2020, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital admitted Queens’ first COVID-19 patient, and the numbers only worsened from there. By April 2020, the hospital had treated and discharged about 120 COVID-19 patients, but Far Rockaway as a whole saw the second-highest case rate and fourth-highest death rate in New York City as of May 2021.
According to data from the New York City Department of City Planning, Zillow and U.S. Census, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital’s zip code, 11691, reported 7,592 total cases and 457 total deaths due to COVID-19 by May 2021.
Aside from the pandemic, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital suffered a setback in September 2021 when a two-alarm fire damaged the building’s roof and 11 patient floors. Additionally, the hospital has also faced the challenge of being the only full-service hospital on the Rockaway peninsula since the closure of Peninsula Hospital in 2012.
Since then, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital officials say the team has worked to improve the overall quality of care while repairing what the fire damaged, including technological advancements with brand new equipment and “adhering to the latest treatment guidelines.”
For Gerard Walsh, CEO of Episcopal Health Services, the street naming ceremony was of special significance, as it not only marked the hospital’s accomplishments and overall resiliency but also happened to fall on the eighth anniversary of his employment.
“We have certainly come a long way in eight years,” Walsh said. “We have shifted our organizational culture, we have rebuilt and forged new relationships with our community, our elected officials, and most importantly, our patients and team members.”
The street naming ceremony was also particularly special to South Queens Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, who was born in the hospital and raised in Far Rockaway.
“I don’t know why we’re not naming it ‘Stacey Pheffer Amato Way,’” Pheffer Amato joked. “This is an incredible celebration for our community,” she added. “This is our day today.”
Aside from the speeches, the street naming ceremony also included a hip-hop violin performance from North Carolina-based artist Bri Blvck and a prayer led by Bishop Lawrence Provenzano of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.
Going forward, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital hopes to add a cancer program, which would be the first in the area in over a decade.
“It really, really is what the community needs … and what they told us they wanted,” Walsh said.