Staff, Community Air NCB Complaints
By JORDAN MOSS
Employees of North Central Bronx Hospital (NCB) and community residents packed a meeting of the hospital's community advisory board last Wednesday to complain about reductions in services at the facility, following months of rallies and hearings concerning NCB's fate.
The board, which is made up of appointees of the borough president, local community boards and the hospital's directors, had not met since June. Less than half of its members were present for the session, but every seat in the visitor's section was occupied, a turnout board members said was highly unusual.
Despite repeated statements from Joseph Orlando, the senior vice president in charge of the network that includes NCB and Jacobi Hospital in the east Bronx, and from Luis Marcos, president of the city's Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), that the hospital is not closing, many employees assert that officials are closing departments or moving them to Jacobi in an effort to undermine NCB and lay the groundwork for its eventual shutdown.
After a brief report from Orlando, in which he told of a "minimal" hospital deficit of six to eight million dollars and preparations for a review from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, employees and residents rose to speak.
Joyce Blake, a registered nurse who has worked at Jacobi since its inception, said there is a shortage of doctors in her GYN unit, causing long delays for patients. "We have to go on a search to find doctors to write orders for our patients," Blake said.
Another nurse, Alice Sutter, spoke about not being able to use the copy machine for days at a time because of administrative delays and about the lack of simple supplies like toilet paper. "It's unfair," Sutter said.
Alfred Grant, a 22-year veteran of NCB and local resident who was recently transferred to housekeeping after his position as a respiratory technician was eliminated, complained of there not being a chief executive officer on the premises of NCB now that the facility has been administratively consolidated with Jacobi. Grant said NCB had become a "second-hand stepchild of Jacobi."
Dr. Kevin Gill, who said he and his colleagues were "operating under tremendous adversity" appealed to the board to join the fight to restore lost services at NCB. "Hopefully, with your help, we need to rally to get these services back," Gill said.
Community residents also stepped up to speak. Margaret Groarke, the president of the Mosholu Woodlawn South Community Coalition, the Norwood affiliate of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, said that if NCB was indeed going to remain open, then officials needed to plan for the hospital's future. (Disclosure: Groarke is married to Norwood News editor Jordan Moss.) "What is the long-term plan for the hospital?" Groarke said, adding, "We need to take action now instead of waiting for it to be chipped away at until there's no hospital left to rally around."
And Judy Wessler, of the Commission on Public's Health System, said that recent preparations to use a part of the hospital to house the homeless indicated that the city intended to phase out the facility. The homeless plan was "a good opportunity for the mayor to announce that this hospital was underutilized," Wessler said. She added that it seemed the city's strategy was "to make the hospital underutilized, and if it's underutilized they will close it."
In response, Orlando said that, although the hospital geared up to receive the homeless, the plan was abandoned and was not likely to be revived. (A Sept. 21 Daily News article, however, reported that the city's Department of Homeless Services was still considering using NCB as a temporary shelter.)
Orlando said he would try to draw up a document addressing all the speakers' concerns, but responded to some of them at the meeting.
He conceded that there was a "crisis of confidence" at the hospital. But he criticized Local 420, the union for most of the hospital's employees, for its frequent rallies in front of the facility. The labor activity "has not worked to the benefit of the hospital but has worked to its detriment," Orlando said, to catcalls from union members in the room.
Orlando said that NCB's moves towards out-patient care reflect the status of the health care industry generally. "The future of HHC is in ambulatory care," he said. "The future is not in in-patient beds." He called the hospital's direction "a progressive reality, not a regressive management plan."
Orlando said he was unaware of some of the shortages in services and personnel, particularly in Blake's GYN unit, and he asked to speak to her after the meeting. This led other personnel and Wessler to express concerns that Orlando was stretched too thin between the two hospitals he directs.
"You think you can do it [run NCB] from Jacobi and you can't," Wessler said.
Ed. note: The NCB community advisory board meets the third Wednesday of each month. For more information, call 918-3827. On Oct. 5 the Assembly Health and Hospitals Committee will hold a hearing on NCB at 270 Broadway at 10:30 a.m. Call 563-0740 for more information.
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