Everyone Benefits From Hospitals’ Presence
We have in this space on a number of occasions noted the many and varied advantages of living in Queens. The borough is home to internationally renowned sports teams, recreational facilities, educational institutions, arts and entertainment venues and two of the tri-state region’s three major airports. Some 2.5 million people, native-born Americans and newcomers from some 120 countries around the world, make Queens their home.
In many ways the borough and its multitudinous opportunities are a good match for the people who live and work here. However, in one important respect–and entirely through no fault of its own–the borough falls short. Last year, in 2009, three hospitals in Queens, Mary Immaculate, St. John’s and Parkway, closed their doors. According to Caryn Schwab, executive director of Mount Sinai Queens Hospital, which serves Western Queens, the closings meant the loss of 1,000 hospital beds. In a meeting of Community Board 2 early this year, Schwab added that the ratio of beds to 1,000 patients in Queens stands at approximately 1.0, far below the New York state average of 3.3 beds per 1,000 patients. City Councilmember Daniel Dromm told Community Board 3 that the closings have put added strain on Elmhurst Hospital Center, one of two city hospitals in Queens (the other is Queens Hospital Center), with patients waiting up to nine or 10 hours to be admitted.
Schwab and EHC officials are adamant that the influx of new patients brought about by closing St. John’s, Parkway and Mary Immaculate will have no effect on the quality of patient care, and from everything we have heard, this appears to be the case. However, as several elected officials pointed out at a civic group community breakfast a number of months ago, Queens holds LaGuardia and JFK Airports, Citi Field, the USTA Tennis Center, Riker’s Island, major highways and major MTA bus and subway lines, to name just a few of the venues and circumstances that simply by their existence demonstrate that the borough has a need for facilities that can deal with any emergency that might arise. The borough’s hospitals are doing an admirable job of handling everything that comes through their doors, but a major emergency would severely strain their capacity and capabilities.
Once upon a time, say, a century ago, hospitals were places where people went to die. Advances in medicine and its partner disciplines, such as nutrition, sanitation and public health, have almost completely reversed this statistic. The average American lifetime has been extended to almost 80 years; more and more people are surpassing this number–and are living active, involved lives as well. Hospitals and the programs they offer everyone in their catchment area are in no small way responsible for this trend. Today, hospitals are places where people learn about getting and staying well besides and in addition to treatment for whatever it is that ails them.
Hospitals are assets to the neighborhoods they serve. They are a major source of employment at all levels of ability and training. They add to local, state and federal tax revenues. Police and emergency service personnel frequently bring patients into the emergency room, bolstering their presence in the surrounding neighborhood and making the streets safer for everyone.
Hospitals enhance wherever they are. Sadly, Queens is inexcusably lacking in these assets and should carefully consider fostering and treasuring those it has. Mount Sinai Queens, for example, seeks to undertake a major expansion program that will enable it to serve its catchment area and beyond to an even greater extent than it does now. We find this endeavor fully worthy of public and private support for all the reasons we have stated. A healthy borough is a prosperous, thriving borough that can move into the 21st century confident in its ability to meet new challenges. To accomplish this goal this borough should boast of more hospitals, not mourn the three that were ripped out by the roots. The need is there. We must meet it if we are to reach our full potential as a population and a civic entity.