Vol. 13, No. 5 March 9 - 22, 2000


NCB Chiefs Make No New Concessions


The top official of the city's public hospital system, Luis Marcos, met with residents and employees at St. Ann's Church last week in a meeting organized by the Coalition to Save North Central Bronx Hospital and the Mosholu Woodlawn South Community Coalition, but the groups made little headway in gaining new concessions in their battle to restore services at the facility.

Following rumors last year that the city intended to close North Central Bronx Hospital (NCB), the groups put pressure on the city's Health and Hospitals Corporation to return services to NCB that were consolidated and moved to Jacobi Hospital, the other public hospital in the North Bronx Healthcare Network.

Marcos, president of the city's Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), which administers city hospitals, and Joe Orlando, president of the North Bronx Healthcare Network, did not build on promises made by Barbara Rosado, NCB's on-site administrator, at a community meeting on Dec. 9. Rosado had announced the hiring of 10 to 20 housekeeping staff, the opening of a Family Asthma Clinic for out-patients, and the renovation of three operating rooms. She also said that $2 million in state funding is being provided to NCB for out-patient treatment of the mentally ill and that beds intended for the homeless have been removed from the hospital.

Orlando and Marcos acknowledged the addition of clinics to the emergency department, but appeared to retract Rosado's promise to study the need to reinstate the pediatric and rehabilitation wards. They said there are not enough patients to sustain an in-patient pediatric ward due to increased competition for patients, the trend towards shorter hospital stays, and because, according to Marcos, people are generally healthier.

"I know you're disappointed, I know you're angry," Marcos said. "But I cannot promise you I'll open a unit."

Residents and employees said there were fewer patients because of the department shutdowns and the hospital's fading public profile. Councilwoman June Eisland urged the hospital's leadership to improve its public relations. "The hospital can't have an off-putting presentation," she said. "There are so many people living here who don't know the services."

The community also demanded that the hospital's psychiatric unit be reopened, and asked for the addition of an adolescent psychiatric and medicine program, a detox program, increased staff and expanded clinic and pharmacy hours. Marcos would not agree to those requests either.

Monsignor Patrick Boyle of St. Brendan's Church in Norwood urged residents to keep a close watch on NCB. "We are trying to be vigilant about the health services in our community," he said. "It would be a scandal if people were not provided with the health services they needed."

West Bronx residents complained that Jacobi Hospital, located in the east Bronx, is too out of the way. "How can I take six buses to go to Jacobi when I have two children here?" asked one community resident who stepped up to the microphone. "I've been going to NCB for 26 years."

Alfred Grant, a former respiratory technician who transferred to housekeeping after his post was cut, said, "I want my kids to be able to go to the same hospital where I work."

Grant, who has two asthmatic children, added, "We need a fully functioning pediatric ward. Children get hurt every day."

A chief concern among NCB employees is the lack of on-site leadership. Employees complained that Rosado is not authorized to make significant decisions and that all the department heads are based at Jacobi. "They have to call Jacobi for oxygen. They have to call Jacobi for blankets," said Emilio Morante, president of the advocacy group Commission on the Public's Health System, and a former executive director of NCB. In response, Marcos and Orlando agreed to give employees schedules of when directors are on-site at NCB.

The officials disputed community claims that NCB is the "stepchild" of HHC. "We are spending $10, $15 million in NCB," Orlando said. "We are not closing NCB. We are opening new programs."

But many listeners remained wary of the city's intentions for the hospital. "These guys are puppets for [Mayor Rudolph] Giuliani," said NCB housekeeping employee George Pierson. "They're just trying to calm the opposition."

Some were pleased, though, that the officials came to the community to respond to concerns. "It keeps them on their toes," said Alex Perzow, an NCB employee who works in patient accounting. "It keeps the community vigilant. We would have been closed six months ago [if we hadn't kept up the pressure]."

A representative from the state Department of Health (DOH) was also on hand to address the potential health impact if plans to build a filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park go forward, and she agreed to bring the issues to the DOH commissioner's attention. Community leaders worry that construction and operation of the plant will intensify asthma problems in the area and want hospital chiefs to weigh those concerns in considering NCB services.

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