Garnet Health Medical Center – Catskills is looking to temporarily close its critical care unit. Administration told the staff it was because of financial considerations, and nurses are concerned the closure could become permanent. The move follows the closure of the medical-surgical floor at the hospital earlier this month.

“The proposed closure works for everyone except the patient and their loved ones, and that’s who we serve,” said Susan Vorstadt, a nurse of 35 years.

On Tuesday, New York State Nurses Association nurses and 1199SEIU healthcare workers held a speak out to demand that Garnet Health reopen the medical-surgical floor and halt the closure of the county’s only critical care unit. The closure of the critical care would mean that Sullivan County residents would be transported to Garnet Health’s Middletown hospital, over 30 miles away in Orange County. 

“If your loved one is having a health crisis and needs an intensive care unit, you will be driving upwards of an hour to go visit your loved one in Middletown,” said Vorstadt. “That burden is placed on the patient and the family.”

According to an application submitted to the New York State Department of Health in January, the Middletown Garnet location is looking to renovate and upgrade its existing 10-bed intensive care unit suite. It also submitted an application in March for the Orange County location, which is currently under review, to construct an addition and perform renovations to modernize and expand the emergency department. That project would cost over $45 million and take over two years to complete.

Sullivan County has a population of nearly 80,000 people, according to the 2020 census. The median household income is $60,433 and about 13 percent of the population is in poverty.

“This can’t possibly be a good thing for the county,” said Vorstadt. “Residents in Sullivan County can’t even afford a bus fare to get to Harris, let alone to Middletown.”

Around 20 people attended Tuesday’s speak out. Garnet Health hosted an emergency Zoom call with staff on May 5 regarding the closures, and then followed up in one-on-one meetings with nurses in the critical care unit, including Vorstadt. Vorstadt said Garnet Health told them there would be no job loss, and the nurses won’t be transferred to Middletown. They would hold the patients until they were ready for transfer.

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, a nurse who worked at the Sullivan hospital and represents most of Sullivan County and Middletown in Orange County, also attended the speak out.

“In the summertime, we have an influx of people,” said Gunther. “We go up to over 300,000 people. I’m thinking about the number of ambulances we have … these hospitals and these beds are so, so important.”

Gunther said she has received many calls from constituents asking why the change is happening.

“Having hospital beds and nurses in our community is very important,” said Gunther. “A lot of people don’t have cars, and taking the ShortLine bus is very, very expensive. It’s very difficult if you don’t have a car and no means of transportation.”

A round-trip ShortLine bus ticket from Monticello to Middletown is $12.40.

Garnet Health did not respond to inquiries by the time of press.