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Health & Science

Health care workers cry out ‘Beds, not body bags’ about Brooklyn hospitals merger

Proponents of $700 million plan say it will improve patient care in financially sustainable way 

By Sam Bojarski

The Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center entrance at Winthrop Street and Utica Avenue. Photo by Sam Bojarski

More than 500 nurses and staff at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center have signed a petition denouncing the consolidation of services at three area hospitals amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

“It’s just not fair to the community, especially since we’re currently in a pandemic, and we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Odile C., 29, a staff nurse at Kingsbrook who signed the petition. Citing privacy concerns, Odile requested that her full last name not be published. 

Kingsbrook, along with Interfaith Medical Center and Brookdale, the other two hospitals looking at consolidation, employ a significant  number of Haitian-Americans. The planned merger of services is part of a $700 million New York State plan to consolidate services at the facilities, which are managed by One Brooklyn Health, a nonprofit. 

The consolidation will eliminate more than 200 beds at Kingsbrook, a move some health care professionals say will place additional strain on larger facilities like nearby Kings County Hospital.

One Brooklyn President and CEO LaRay Brown has said the consolidation will recenter health care at Kingsbrook around primary and specialty care, eliminating services like overnight emergency room visits. The merger will mean less inpatient capacity and more outpatient services, Bklyner reported. 

Brown told Becker’s Hospital Review on Oct. 12 that the elimination of beds at Kingsbrook will not hinder preparations for a second COVID-19 wave. 

COVID-19, which devastated the Haitian community this spring, has seen an uptick in some central Brooklyn neighborhoods this month. 

Kelynne Edmond, president of the Haitian American Nurses Association of Greater New York (HANA), said medical facilities throughout the city have increased capacity and collaboration efforts since the spring. She said about 40 HANA members work in hospitals citywide, including Kingsbrook. 

Edmond acknowledged the impending loss of hospital beds at Kingsbrook, but is optimistic. 

“If we do end up with the spike that we had in the spring, we will [find] a way. Nursing is resilient,” said Edmond, who works at New York-Presbyterian Hospital

The hospital consolidation calls for the elimination of 163 inpatient medical-surgical beds at Kingsbrook, along with additional beds used for treating coronary issues, brain injuries and coma recovery. The New York State Nurses Association union represents 280 nurses at Kingsbrook, none of whom will lose their jobs in the merger, according to Bklyner. 

Many of the nurses impacted will be transferred to Interfaith and Brookdale, said Edmond. 

“They do have some available positions at Kingsbrook even with the merger, but it’s not a lot of positions,” said Odile, of Canarsie. 

COVID-19 and hospital capacity

Coronavirus positivity rates have begun to increase in certain neighborhoods, sparking concerns about a potential second wave. 

New York City has released restrictions designed to contain outbreaks of new cases in certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. Portions of Borough Park, Flatlands and Midwood are designated in a restricted “red zone” area, which means no in-person dining at restaurants, fully remote learning for schools and bans on non-essential gatherings. The governor’s office announced Oct. 6 that the restrictions could last at least 14 days

Overnight emergency room visits at Kingsbrook will be eliminated under the merger with Interfaith and Brookdale hospitals. Photo by Sam Bojarski

As of Oct. 15, citywide positivity rates stood at 1.31%. The neighborhoods of Midwood and Kensington-Windsor Terrace, which lies just south of Prospect Park, were seeing four-week positivity rates of 6.73% and 3.36%, respectively. Portions of both neighborhoods are in the red zone. 

Southeast Queens was not included in the red zone designated by city and state officials. Four-week positivity rates in Queens Village were just over 1% on Oct. 15, according to city data. 

At Kingsbrook, the influx of COVID-19 patients seen this spring was overwhelming.

“We didn’t have adequate resources to support that, in regards to just having PPE for the staff or even having space to put people,” said Odile.

The consolidation calls for the removal of hospital beds at Kingsbrook by Jan. 1

Prior to the pandemic, Kings County had 624 total beds and 32 ICU beds, according to data from the New York State Department of Health. The addition of 292 medical beds and 117 intensive care unit (ICU) beds to Kings County Hospital, announced in April, will help the facility prepare for a potential second wave. 

Stephanie Guzman, a spokesperson for New York City Health and Hospitals, a public benefit corporation, said plans are in place.

“Working as one unified system made up of 11 hospitals, NYC Health and Hospitals stands ready to once again triple and quadruple ICU capacity, surge resources and personnel, safely transfer patients throughout its system, and partner with other safety net hospitals to best serve New Yorkers,” Guzman said. 

Impact on patients

The petition signed by Kingsbrook staff detailed concerns with cutting services at Kingsbrook, which serves large numbers of uninsured patients and Medicaid recipients. 

“We are prepared to accommodate 540 COVID-19 patients on two of the campuses when [Kingsbrook] medical/ surgical beds are closed,” said Brown earlier this month

The situation might not be ideal for Haitian-American patients in Brooklyn, Edmond said, especially those who rely on Kingsbrook for emergency services. 

“But I’m pretty sure under the merger and collaboration, these individuals will be cared for,” she said.  

For Odile, the bad timing amid the pandemic is the biggest concern. She also questioned a perceived lack of transparency surrounding the process. 

“I think if you’re doing something as huge as this, you definitely want to at least hear from the community,” Odile said. “A lot of people are making the decisions for a community that they don’t live in, and I don’t think that’s fair.”

Sam Bojarski

Sam Bojarski

Sam Bojarski has been covering Haiti and its diaspora for The Haitian Times since 2018. He is currently covering New York's Haitian community as a Report for America corps member.
Sam Bojarski
Oct. 16, 2020

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