Stretchers in the Hallways

A letter from Yetta Kurland:

Dear Friends,

Two interesting stories appeared in the press this past weekend concerning health care for the people of the Lower West Side of Manhattan. One was a fantasy. The other dealt with reality.

The fantasy was an article that appeared in The Villager, over the signature of Lincoln Anderson. He suggested that instead of fighting for a full-fledged hospital to replace the defunct St. Vincent’s Hospital that was illegally closed last year, health care advocates should be fighting for a “free standing” emergency room, with no hospital attached, because that would be better for us.

He cites as a model of such superior emergency rooms, a facility in Roselle Park, New Jersey, which he claims saves lives and doesn’t kill patients. I suppose that’s meant to be reassuring. But to compare St. Vincent’s Hospital, a large metropolitan hospital, which we lost and are trying to replace, to a small town emergency unit, which is a satellite to urban hospitals in nearby Elizabeth, is an insult to everyone’s intelligence.

Bless the good people in Roselle Park, and I wish them good health.  But we have a big city here, with big city health problems. To compare the two situations is ridiculous.

In two anecdotes in Mr. Anderson’s article, he writes of patients driving into the ER in Roselle Park, where they were well treated. Fine. But as Mr. Anderson will realize, if he stops to think, New York City patients usually don’t drive. In the case of the man with a heart problem, he might have died waiting for an ambulance if he were on Charles Street these days. In the case of the woman giving imminent birth, she would not have made it to a hospital for the birth if she lived on West 17th Street.

If Mr. Anderson thinks that free standing emergency rooms are better than full fledged hospitals, he should try peddling those apples on the Upper East Side, or in Suffolk County, and see how far he gets.

Let us leave Mr. Anderson’s fantasy for a moment and turn to the reality of health care in New York Downtown Hospital, the only hospital south of 16th Street, now that St. Vincent’s Hospital is closed.

According to an article in Sunday’s New York Post, by Helaina Hovitz and Susan Edelman, Downtown Hospital is “overwhelmed,” thanks in large part to the closure of St. Vincent’s.

The hospital has 160 inpatient beds. According to the article, these are usually so full that in-coming patients have to wait for days to get a real bed in a real room… for days. “We have stretchers in the hallways,” one veteran doctor said. “It can get extremely crowded.”

The Post reporters describe what they found on a recent visit to the Downtown ER: “All the curtained rooms with beds were full. At least 20 other patients waited on gurneys or in chairs, some moaning. Loose pills and a broken needle littered the floor.”

Morale among the nursing staff was described as low.  One can only imagine.

The juxtaposition of these two stories concerning health care for the Lower West Side makes the choice, and the reality, clear. We can either close our eyes and take a chance on the fantasies of Lincoln Anderson of The Villager, or we can accept the reality that we need a real hospital to replace St. Vincent’s.  We then can use this reality to find reasonable ways to make that happen.  I have joined the Coalition for a New Village Hospital in an effort to do my part to make restoring a hospital a reality.  I urge my neighbors to do the same.

Towards a New Village Hospital,

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