Rally for a hospital.

Yesterday was a spectacularly beautiful day in the city, and the rally to demand a hospital in my neighborhood was well attended.  As I noted in my last post, the day marked the one year anniversary since St. Vincent’s hospital closed its doors, leaving the entire lower West side of Manhattan (pop. 385,000) without a single hospital or emergency room.  People are angry, and rightly so.

Every single elected official in this city was invited to the rally.  Not one showed up.

Except for a single neighborhood publication, there has been a virtual media blackout on this issue for the past year.  (Yesterday, Fox News, ABC, and New York 1 showed up with cameras; I have not yet seen their coverage.)

A petition drive to the Attorney General, who promised his support for a neighborhood hospital during his campaign last year (LOL!), was the practical focus of the rally.  Meanwhile, the real estate developers have been running a little campaign of their own:

Lower West Side residents have been receiving some interesting astroturf in their mailboxes lately. It’s from a group called The “Westside Healthcare Coalition“. Trouble is, they don’t exist. They’re just a front for the real estate developers that want to build luxury condos where we need a hospital.

(More here.)

I also learned some very interesting things today from one Dr. David Kaufman, physician at St. Vincent’s for 30 years and a featured speaker at the rally.

  • For people in my neighborhood who needed emergency services in the last year, it generally took 20 to 60 minutes to get to an emergency room.
  • Once patients arrived at an ER, they experienced on average a 5 hour wait for medical attention.
  • At St. Vincent’s in 2009, 13,572 emergency room patients needed and received immediate hospitalization.  It is not unusual for Dr. Kaufman’s emergency room patients (now at Beth Israel) who need immediate hospitalization to wait on stretchers for a hospital bed for 24 hours or more.
  • When St. Vincent’s was open, there were 380 operational hospital beds for a local population of 385,00 people, which works out to about one hospital bed per thousand residents.  Now there are zero beds.  And zero emergency rooms.
  • By contrast, the Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem, with a population of 325,286 (60,000 fewer people than the lower West side), has 3,940 hospital beds.  That’s one bed for every 82 residents — and five full-service emergency rooms.

Dr. Kaufman proposed an eminently sensible solution to our current conundrum, so it’s sure to be a non-starter.  North Shore-LIJ Health Systems is the proposed provider of the “comprehensive care center” with zero beds that Rudin, the real estate developer, has agreed to put on the site in an attempt to appease the locals.  North Shore-LIJ has just purchased Lenox Hill Hospital, which happens to sit on some serious prime real estate on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where hospitals abound.  Dr. Kaufman suggests moving the entire Lenox Hill operation to the St. Vincent’s site, and letting Rudin build its condo towers on the Lenox Hill site, at 76th Street and Park Avenue.  Win-win-win-win-win.  Not. Going. To. Happen.  

Yetta Kurland, lead counsel in the lawsuits to attempt to block the Rudin condo project unless it includes a full-service hospital, got the crowd wound up with passionate and fiery rhetoric.  She warned everyone to be wary of the ongoing astroturf campaigns and false rumors being spread about the activists in this fight:  she said no one is in this for anything more than a full service hospital in the neighborhood.  “We are reasonable people,” she said. “A hospital is a reasonable demand.”

These are facts:

The U.S. spends twice as much as other industrialized nations on health care, $8,160 per capita. Yet our system performs poorly in comparison and still leaves 50.7 million without health coverage and millions more inadequately covered.

This is because private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume one-third (31 percent) of every health care dollar. Streamlining payment through a single nonprofit payer would save more than $400 billion per year, enough to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans.

The private insurance bureaucracy is a symptom of a larger problem:  in the United States, health care is primarily about making money, not about health.  Until that paradigm changes, the story of St. Vincents will continue to be replayed, again and again and again.  It may be coming soon to a hospital near you.

Pics below the fold.

West Village denizens at the rally.

Signs of the times:

(Heh-heh. +10 for mockery.)

Eileen Dunn, St. Vincent's nurse for 25 years: "All we are in this for is a full service hospital."

Dr. David Kaufman, St. Vincent's physician for 30 years. While the good doctor was speaking, the fire engine from Squad 18 rode by, with all the firefighters waving and honking loudly in support.

Yetta Kurland: "We are reasonable people. A hospital is a reasonable demand."

9/11 Memorial message outside the former entrance to St. Vincent’s ER.

2 thoughts on “Rally for a hospital.

  1. In our current profit uber alles world, maybe we should just go ahead and make everything a for-profit enterprise. Everything: schools. Prisons. (Oh, wait, we’re halfway there on those two, aren’t we?) The National Weather Service (“There’s a hurricane in the Atlantic! Will it hit your area?! Find out now for just $19.95!”). Various agencies like the EPA (“Now a subsidiary of Koch Industries”), the FBI (“We will get the bad guy–for a price”), or the CIA (“This clandestine narcotics operation brought to you by Merck Pharmaceuticals”). Even down to the local level: school crossing guards (“Make you way to the other side of the street with an adult for just $1.00!”).

    There are certainly some areas now run by government that would be better served by private enterprise (space travel, though not space exploration, comes to mind). But when compassion and humanity and doing things for the common good–you know, that whole “promote the general welfare” thing–are supplanted by a lust for dollars, a few make out and the rest get screwed. As has been demonstrated repeatedly. And perhaps nowhere more poignantly than in our health care system.

    The United States has by far the most expensive health care per capita in the world. But, much as some might wish to pretend otherwise, it’s far from the best. With the very lucrative insurance and drug companies siphoning cash from the system in mass quantities, is it any wonder things have turned out the way they have?

    Forget about getting the care we deserve; how about getting the care we fucking pay for?

  2. But when compassion and humanity and doing things for the common good–you know, that whole “promote the general welfare” thing–are supplanted by a lust for dollars, a few make out and the rest get screwed.

    Geez, you say that like it’s a bad thing, Jim. It’s a feature, not a bug.

    With a U.S. single payer system, drug companies would hardly go out of business. Last time I checked, Big Pharma still sold their products in Canada, the U.K., Spain, etc. etc. Would they be operating there if it were not profitable? Of course not. The insurance companies on the other hand would not fare well. Buh-bye! And good riddance.

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