News and Commentary

New York City Mayor’s ‘Crucial’ $52 Million COVID-19 Hospital Treated 79 Patients Before Closing
Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York, wears a protective mask while touring the Malia Mills swimwear factory, which has pivoted to manufacturing polypropylene gowns for medical workers, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. New York City officials intend to enlist thousands of health-care workers next month to conduct hundreds of thousands of diagnostic tests a day, and isolating anyone found to be carrying the disease. Photographer:
Mark Kauzlarich / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared in March that the city needed an expensive “crucial” emergency hospital to treat a predicted flood of COVID-19 patients.

The hospital, which cost a whopping $52 million, treated a total of 79 patients before shutting down 33 days later on May 13.

The story of the temporary hospital, built at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, is detailed in a new exposé by The New York Times. The piece cites “missteps made at every level of government” from well before the hospital opened on April 10.

“I basically got paid $2,000 a day to sit on my phone and look at Facebook,” a nurse practitioner told the Times. “We all felt guilty. I felt really ashamed, to be honest.”

“Knowing what our patients had to endure in an overcrowded emergency department, it’s frustrating how few patients were treated at facilities such as Billie Jean King,” added Dr. Timothy Tan, director of clinical operations at the Queens Hospital Center emergency department.

In March, just as the virus began sweeping across the city, de Blasio said “this facility will be crucial.” An aide to the mayor, Jackie Bray, told the paper, “The alternative space was less used than we expected it to be because we broke the curve, thank goodness.”

However, the piece says doctors at other hospitals wanted to transfer patients to the temporary facility, but “were blocked by bureaucracy, turf battles and communication failures, according to internal documents and interviews with workers.”

New York paid as much as $732 an hour for some doctors at Billie Jean King, but the city made them spend hours on paperwork. They were supposed to treat coronavirus patients, but they did not accept people with fevers, a hallmark symptom of the virus. Officials said the site would serve critically ill patients, but workers said it opened with only one or two ventilators.

The temporary hospital at the tennis center wasn’t the only one in the city that went mostly unused.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo persuaded the federal government to pitch in millions to turn the massive Javits Center into a field hospital and rush to outfit the USNS Comfort with 500 beds to handle the overflow from packed hospitals.

The ship was being overhauled in Norfolk, Virginia, when the Navy had to rush the work to deploy the ship quickly. In late March, Trump traveled to the Navy port in Virginia to bid bon voyage to the ship “stocked up” with supplies and medical personnel, calling it a “70,000-ton message of hope and solidarity.” The ship has 12 operating rooms, a medical laboratory, a pharmacy, a helicopter deck, and more, Trump said.

But the hospital ship held “fewer than 80 patients in New York City, leaving nearly 90% of its available space unused after its emergency dispatch to the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus crisis,” CNBC reported in mid-April.

“The president sent up a Navy ship, the Comfort, a hospital ship, which was very good to have if we need overflow,” Cuomo said April 22 on MSNBC. “It did give us comfort, but we don’t need it anymore. If they need to deploy it somewhere else, they should take it.”

The Javits Center, outfitted with medical equipment and 2,500 beds, was also little-used.

“As of April 7, the convention center had admitted only 66 patients. This was due in large part to the strict admission requirements. At first, a patient could only be transferred to Javits if they were convalescing, or in the recovery period. The fear was that Javits didn’t have the ICU beds, operating rooms, or equipment necessary to handle patients who might relapse or need surgery because of an underlying condition,” Business Insider reported.

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