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Bronx: Annual NYC Health + Hospital Public Meeting spotlights community concerns, staffing challenges

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The annual public meeting of the New York City Health + Hospital Bronx, held at Jacobi Hospital on Tuesday, May 16th, shed light on a range of critical issues impacting the borough’s healthcare landscape. Community members, healthcare professionals, and aspiring political candidates gathered to voice their concerns, discuss pressing matters, and advocate for improvements within the healthcare system.

Established by the New York State legislature in 1969, the Health + Hospital Bronx (HHC) took over from the city’s Department of Hospitals to oversee the operation of city hospitals and healthcare facilities. Functioning as a Quasi Public agency, HHC leverages both public and private revenues and funding to enhance its services.

The meeting, though slightly delayed due to traffic, commenced with Dr. Melvin Katz, President of HHC, addressing the audience. Dr. Katz, who has held the position for six years, emphasized the organization’s response to ongoing challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the care of asylum seekers. Noteworthy achievements included the successful administration of fifteen thousand Mpox vaccinations and the introduction of plant-based meal options. With eleven full-service hospitals spread across four boroughs, five Long Term Care facilities in four boroughs, and thirty Gotham Health Centers serving all five boroughs, HHC strives to deliver comprehensive healthcare services to the Bronx community.

Following Dr. Katz’s update, the floor was opened for public speakers who expressed their views on various pertinent topics. The majority of speakers, many of whom were residents living in the vicinity of Jacobi Hospital, expressed resounding opposition to the Just Home proposal. This controversial initiative suggests providing studio apartments on the Jacobi Hospital campus to individuals currently incarcerated on Rikers Island, even if their medical needs are as minor as managing diabetes. Al D’Angelo, Vice-Chair of Community Board 11, emphasized that the board overwhelmingly rejected the Just Home proposal. Concerned community members voiced fears about living in proximity to individuals indicted for major crimes, including gang members, and the potential risks associated with allowing them to freely enter the community without sufficient supervision or constraints. Nurses from Jacobi Hospital and other HHC facilities also shared their concerns, citing inadequate wages and staffing shortages exceeding 25%, which led HHC to rely on travel nurses who are paid almost double the salary of regular HHC nurses. The disparity in wages has cost HHC a significant amount, totaling one hundred and ninety-seven thousand dollars in the first quarter of 2023.

Notably, a few speakers expressed support for the Just Home proposal, although it was noted that they did not reside in the surrounding area of Jacobi Hospital.

The Health and Hospitals Corporation Board, composed of esteemed members including Colleague Hercules Secretary, Andrea Cohen Senior VP and Counsel, Dr. Melvin Katz President, Jose Pagan Chairman, Bob Nolan Bronx Borough President member, Sally Hernandez Board member, and Jackie Rowe Adams Board Member, occupied the stage at the Jacobi Hospital Rotunda auditorium.

Prominent figures from the community also made their voices heard. Al D’Angelo, President of the Morris Park Community Association and Vice-Chair of Community Board 11, reiterated the strong opposition of Community Board 11 to the Just Home proposal at Jacobi Hospital. Phyllis Bastelone, a long-time resident of Indian Village whose family has roots in the community dating back to 1930, advocated for senior housing in Building Two on the Jacobi Campus. Patti Marabello, another resident of Indian Village, highlighted past lawsuits involving Jacobi Hospital and emphasized the pressing need for increased funding for HHC. Marabello also referenced statements by the Department of Corrections Commissioner, who stated that a significant majority of detainees indicted at Rikers Island are gang members, further fueling concerns about the proposed development’s impact on the surrounding area.

Kristy Marormato, a resident of Indian Village and City Council candidate, passionately voiced her opposition to the Just Home project at Jacobi Hospital. Displaying her determination, Marormato presented a petition with an impressive 2,951 signatures against the proposal, symbolizing the widespread community disapproval.

Seizing the opportunity, Irene Estrada, another City Council candidate, used her speaking slot to launch a verbal assault on the incumbent councilwoman, Marjorie Velazquez. Estrada urged attendees to consider alternative options and not vote for the current councilwoman in the upcoming elections.

The meeting also witnessed Samantha Zherka, a City Council candidate with prior political experience, raising concerns about the Bronx Republican Party’s apparent lack of participation in the electoral process. Zherka, who previously ran as the Republican Party candidate for the 34th State Senate District, criticized the party chair for failing to field candidates against the Democratic Party, calling attention to the need for robust political competition.

Furthermore, Sonia Lawrence, RN, President of H & H and Mayor’s Executive Council of Nurses, took the stage to address the pressing issue of staffing shortages and low wages experienced by HHC nurses. Lawrence emphasized that a substantial 25% of nurses within HHC hospitals are travel nurses, recruited at nearly double the salary of regular HHC nurses. This disparity in compensation resulted in significant financial implications, with HHC incurring expenses amounting to $197,000 in the first quarter of 2023 alone.

The Annual Public Meeting of the New York City Health + Hospital Bronx served as a critical platform for open dialogue and exchange of ideas between stakeholders, community members, and healthcare professionals. The event revealed a community united in voicing concerns over the Just Home proposal and highlighted the urgent need to address staffing challenges within HHC.

As the meeting drew to a close, it became evident that the voices expressed throughout the event would resonate beyond the auditorium of Jacobi Hospital. The discussions and debates surrounding the future of healthcare provision in the Bronx and the role of the Health + Hospital Bronx Corporation in meeting the community’s needs will undoubtedly continue to shape the local healthcare landscape.

This annual gathering reaffirmed the significance of engaging the public, addressing their concerns, and striving for a healthcare system that prioritizes quality, accessibility, and community collaboration. The discussions held during this meeting will undoubtedly inform future decisions and initiatives aimed at improving healthcare services for the Bronx community.

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