|Vol. 12, No. 22
||Nov. 18 - Dec. 1,
NCB Gets Rave Reviews, But Community Remains
By HANNAN ADELY
North Central Bronx Hospital (NCB) has passed a
rigorous accreditation review with flying colors. But hospital staffers worry that the
city has only temporarily masked recent cutbacks and layoffs during the inspection to ward
off accusations that it intends to close the facility.
Although the official results of the survey, conducted by the Joint Commission on
Accreditation of Health Care Organizations (JCAHCO), will not be in for at least another
two months, preliminary reports are glowing. "They indicated that we should be very
proud of the results and that our medical staff was excellent," said NCB spokeswoman
Nancy McPartlin. "They said they were impressed by the services that we
JCAHCO is a private organization that surveys hospitals every three years. Those that pass
are eligible to receive federal Medicare dollars. All aspects of NCB's services were
considered, including the quality of medical records, staff knowledge and housekeeping
The good marks pleased both NCB staff and officials of the Health and Hospitals
Corporation (HHC), the city agency that oversees all public hospitals. Lately, staff and
administration have been at odds over allegations that the city intends to close NCB.
Although officials of HHC have repeatedly stated there are no plans to close the facility,
employees argue that recent cutbacks and layoffs indicate the opposite. Workers have
staged numerous rallies in front of the facility during the last several months.
But JCAHCO's three-day visit has not erased the concerns of staff and other hospital
supporters who allege that the workforce was inflated for the review with new hires, staff
from Jacobi Hospital and overtime staffing.
McPartlin acknowledged that there was some recent hiring, but, she said, "It has
nothing to do with the Joint Commission. What may look to someone like additional staff,
was just the filling of vacancies."
Staffers also report that the administration went to great lengths to make the facility
"spic and span." "They ran around like headless chickens trying to get the
place ready," said Jean Jones, NCB's chief shop steward. Walls were painted, new
lights were installed, vents were cleaned and televisions were even added to lounges,
But hospital staff said they are worried that the new faces and special attention will
disappear now that JCAHCO is gone. Such concerns stem from NCB's recent history; in the
past three years, staff has dropped from 2,700 to 1,200 and major services, such as the
pediatric in-patient ward and the asthma unit, were transferred to Jacobi Hospital.
(Jacobi and NCB are coupled under the one administration called the North Bronx Healthcare
Network.) Also, obstetric and gynecological services have been cut.
Just one year ago, Alfred Grant's job as a respiratory technician was eliminated. But as a
20-year employee, he was offered a position in the housekeeping department. "It's a
waste of my state license," he said. And, he added, "I had to bump somebody in
housekeeping to keep my job." Grant also was given the option of early retirement,
which he said is being widely offered.
Though proud of the survey's results, employees are critical at the same time. "It's
a farce for anybody to believe that this mark is indicative of 365 days a year,"
Grant said. He described the actual hospital staff as a "skeleton crew."
Jones, who sometimes works in transport, said she usually sees three or four patients
transferred to Jacobi every day. But during the hospital survey, the administration made
sure many of those patients stayed put, she said.
One of the most consistent criticisms is that NCB lacks meaningful on-site management.
Judy Wessler, coordinator of the Commission on the Public's Health System, and four
community members, representing the Coalition to Save North Central Bronx Hospital,
testified before surveyors from JCAHCO on Oct. 19. "Decisions are made for the
network by people located over at Jacobi Hospital to the detriment of the NCB
community," testified Monsignor Robert Trainor of St. Ann's Church in Norwood.
"Our goal is to get accreditation and see positive change."
McPartlin contested the charges. "There is management in place there," she said.
"There is an on-site administrator." But the coalition testified that the only
on-site administrator, Barbara Rosado, is responsible for the physical plant, and not for
"They need somebody who's a director and knows what the community needs," said
an NCB doctor who requested anonymity. "Not just someone who makes sure the elevator
is working." Joseph Orlando, director of the North Bronx Healthcare Network, makes
major decisions about health services, but "75 to 80 percent of the time, he's at
Jacobi," the doctor said. He added that even many lower-level decision-makers, like
the head of purchasing and linen service, are based at Jacobi.
Despite the lack of on-site management and the transfer of services to Jacobi Hospital,
unofficial results indicate that NCB actually scored higher than Jacobi on JCAHCO's survey
by as much as 10 points, said the NCB doctor. He and Jones said NCB's preliminary scores
excelled at 96 or 97 out of 100. "I think it's what the employees knew all
along," the doctor said. "It's a high-quality place ... It showed that NCB is
the flagship or jewel in terms of a modern building and support services."
So why would hospital officials bend over backwards to prep NCB for its review if it
intended to close the facility? Critics like Wessler argue that the city is using the
clean bill of health as an insurance policy. If NCB ever did close, the city could point
to the review and claim that there was nothing wrong with services. Instead, blame would
be placed on underutilization, Wessler said. A 457-bed facility, NCB now averages 200
patients daily. If its patient census falls between 50 and 80 patients per day, the
hospital may be able to legitimately close its doors.
Employees and coalition members are generally pessimistic that the high score will reverse
downsizing at NCB. "We would hope they come to their senses," Wessler said.
"But I wouldn't count on it."
Wessler and members of the Coalition to Save NCB pledged to watch the hospital more
closely now that the accreditation survey is over to make sure services and staff do not
go below their current levels. But the majority of the "extra" help, employees
report, has already returned to Jacobi.
"It used to be a joy to come to work," Jones said. "Now that we're
affiliated with Jacobi, it's not the same. Things are changing so rapidly."
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