NCB Battle Moves to Council Chambers
By BRIAN DUTT
The controversy over the status of North Central Bronx Hospital (NCB) spilled into City Hall on Aug. 17 for the first public hearing concerning the facility's alleged closing.
Called by the City Council's Health Committee, the hearing featured Dr. Luis Marcos, president of the city's Health and Hospital Corporation (HHC), who denied once again that the city was planning to close the facility and countered allegations that departments at NCB were only being moved to Jacobi Hospital rather than the other way around. Marcos announced, to the surprise of many, that a psychiatric rehab center was being brought to NCB.
"This is the first I've heard of it," said Councilwoman June Eisland, whose district includes NCB.
Marcos presented statistics at the six-hour session to argue that the sharp decline in the number of patients at NCB, and the resulting layoffs and service cuts, is due to recent health care trends rather than a premeditated design to close the facility. According to Marcos, trauma is down citywide, there are more children with primary care physicians, and the average hospital stay is down from 8 days in 1992 to five and a half days in 1999, resulting in fewer people in need of hospitalization.
Myra Goggins, president of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, a grassroots organization with 10 neighborhood affiliates, questioned the relevance of these city-wide statistics to the local problem. "You can come up with statistics that will prove anything," Goggins said. "If you pin [Marcos] down to one neighborhood, then it's a different story."
Councilman Victor L. Robles, chair of the Health Committee, vigorously questioned Marcos and his staff at the hearing. When asked if the bed capacity at NCB was currently at 197, Joseph Orlando, head of the North Bronx Health Care Network, answered that there were actually 255 certified beds and added that they could "theoretically use all of them."
Testimony from HHC officials were met with murmurs of disapproval from the crowd of about 100 community residents and employees of NCB who believe the city's intentions to eliminate NCB are as clear as day. In recent months, inpatient rehabilitation services were discontinued, the pediatric inpatient wards and asthma units were closed and the obstetric and gynecological services were cut. HHC says all the services were "consolidated" with those at Jacobi, and transferred there.
In his testimony, Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer complained about NCB's lack of a "full-time, on-site senior executive dedicated to ensuring that NCB remains a viable facility." Joseph Orlando, vice president of the North Bronx Healthcare Network, serves as executive director at Jacobi Hospital, while simultaneously serving as senior executive and chief operating officer at NCB. This is a "distinct disadvantage," Ferrer said, when NCB is compared with other city hospitals like Metropolitan Hospital where one executive is dedicated to one hospital.
The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, Community Board 7 and other community organizations and health care advocacy groups have been meeting recently to devise a strategy to keep the hospital from closing.
Monsignor Robert Trainor, pastor of Saint Ann's Church in Norwood, who attended the hearing and is working with those campaigning to keep the facility open, said he nevertheless worries that community efforts will fall short.
"They [HHC] may just be keeping the hospital open long enough for this tempest in a teapot to blow over," Trainor said.
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