After shutting down its in-patient pediatric unit in order to take in evacuees during Hurricane Sandy last October, St. Luke’s Hospital announced last month that it would not be reopening the ward, opting instead to move it to Roosevelt Hospital in midtown.
Although St. Luke’s, which is partnered with Roosevelt under the city-wide hospital network Continuum Health Partners, argues that the decision will help improve the unit’s quality of care, the closure has drawn significant opposition from local officials and pediatric nurses, who worry that it will reduce accessibility to adequate medical care for the children of West Harlem.
“I’m a mother, and if my child got sick I would certainly want to jump in a taxi and get my child to a hospital,” said Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, chair of Community Board 9, who noted that the hospital serves an area with a high frequency of respiratory ailments such as influenza. “That would cost about seven dollars, maybe 10, from most areas in CB9. But to go down to Roosevelt, that becomes cost-prohibitive.”
Jim Mandler, a spokesman for St. Luke’s-Roosevelt, said that St. Luke’s will only treat pediatric patients on an emergency basis, while all other patients will be directed to Roosevelt.
Prior to the closure, Mandler said, St. Luke’s pediatric ward operated a unit that typically filled only six of its 28 beds, while the 10-bed unit at Roosevelt usually held roughly three patients. He argued that combining the two units would allow the hospitals to pool their resources and give medical professionals more opportunities to gain hands-on experience with patients.
The new location is also more centrally located than St. Luke’s, Mandler said, which will allow it to serve children throughout western Manhattan more effectively than two separate pediatric units did.
“It made better sense—most importantly from a clinical as well as an operational standpoint—to consolidate the units so we could provide a much better quality of care,” Mandler said. “We firmly believe that this is the right course of action in terms of providing the highest quality of care that we can to our pediatric patients and their families.”
Nurses from the closed unit, however, have accused the hospital of putting profits over patients. In target=_blank>a YouTube video released on Tuesday, they asked viewers to petition Continuum Health Partners to keep the ward open, and argued that St. Luke’s had used Hurricane Sandy as an excuse to close an already unprofitable unit.
“They used the storm to close our unit,” Adrian Demartini, a pediatric nurse, said in the video.
A group of St. Luke’s nurses also attended the January meeting of CB9, having notified local officials on Jan. 17 that they feared action would be taken to close the unit.
Although Morgan-Thomas said it was not acceptable to leave the unit closed, she called claims that the storm had been used as a front to close the ward “speculative.” Mandler said discussions to close the ward had been underway for months, especially as growing emergency room demand increased the need for adult beds over pediatric beds.
As a result of the controversy, St. Luke’s has entered into discussions with CB9, and will appear at the body’s general meeting on February 21. Morgan-Thomas highlighted the need for cooperation between the two entities, and said she would fight to guarantee at least a few outpatient beds for pediatric patients, many of whom come from low-income neighborhoods in upper Manhattan.
“We want them to be sensitive to the fact that our communities are often the first communities that suffer cuts,” she said. “If the unit is underutilized, we would like to see if the community board needs to do other things, such as find additional outreach or get additional funding.”
The closure of the unit will not take effect for at least a few months, and is unlikely to result in any job cuts, with some St. Luke’s employees moving downtown to Roosevelt. The state’s Department of Health must first approve the plan, after which the hospital will have 90 days to produce a formal plan for the consolidation.