Patient Advocates Speak Out for Equitable Healthcare in Westchester

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 12, 2021
Contact: Kristi Barnes | kristi.barnes@nysna.org | 646.853.4489

Labor, Community, Elected Officials Release New Report, Demand Transparency and Accountability for Public Funds, Essential Healthcare Service Closures, and COVID Data

Mount Vernon — Patient advocates gathered on the steps of Mount Vernon City Hall to speak out about how Montefiore Health System’s expansion into Westchester County and its disparate investment in communities has had a negative impact on healthcare access and community health in the region.

The New York State Nurses Association and the Save and Transform Mount Vernon Coalition released a new report, “Unequal Empire: How Montefiore’s Expansion Reinforces Racial Disparities in Healthcare”, that finds that Montefiore is not adequately serving the healthcare needs of all the communities it is supposed to serve in Westchester County. It examines data from three communities where Montefiore has recently acquired hospitals: Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, and White Plains. Key findings include:

  • Montefiore has invested heavily in its most profitable facility in wealthier, whiter White Plains, while relying on public investments and reducing essential services in New Rochelle and Mount Vernon.
  • Montefiore closed the ICU at Mount Vernon Hospital during the COVID pandemic and has petitioned to close the community’s only full-service hospital. In New Rochelle, Montefiore closed down the maternal child health units for months during the pandemic.
  • Emergency Department wait times and wait times to be admitted to the hospital are much longer in Mount Vernon and New Rochelle than in White Plains, which negatively impact patient care.
  • Chronic understaffing of nurses and ancillary staff increases dangerous delays in care. At Montefiore New Rochelle, nearly 40 RNs left in 2020. Nurses sometimes care for double the number of patients considered safe.
  • Health outcomes by race have not significantly improved—and some like preventable hospitalizations have worsened—with Montefiore’s expansion into Westchester.  In Mount Vernon, the rate of premature death was 28.4%. In White Plains, that number was only 17%.

The report, endorsed by labor, community, faith and elected leaders, includes several recommendations to increase equity and promote healthcare justice. Solutions include: increased investment from Montefiore; a moratorium on hospital cuts, closures and expansions; transparency and accountability when public subsidies are given to private corporations; the release of COVID data critical to understanding hospitals’ response; legislation to establish statewide safe staffing standards; and an investigation into how Montefiore has allotted resources to the communities it serves.

The New York State Attorney General’s recent report on nursing home deaths underscored the need for open and accurate data from New York’s hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic, since the greatest number of COVID infections and deaths occurred in hospitals.

The New York State Department of Health needs to provide the public with detailed, hospital-level COVID data. NYSNA’s Freedom of Information request for this data was just delayed for a second time. Advocates are calling for a thorough investigation of hospitals’—including Montefiore’s—pandemic response.

The report is available online at SaveMVH.org, and the report launch event was livestreamed on facebook.com/nynurses.

NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN, said: “Both hospital systems and policymakers must do more to end racial disparities in healthcare. Allowing hospitals to prioritize profits over patient care has dire impacts on the health of our communities, particularly low-income communities and communities of color. We need greater oversight to ensure equitable, quality healthcare for all.”

State Senator Shelley Mayer said: "I stand with NYSNA in calling for improved safe staffing standards and greater accountability in the use of public dollars to support New York's hospitals. We know safe staffing is essential for patient and staff safety, as well as retaining professional employees. In addition, public dollars must always be invested for the public benefit to improve outcomes and patient experience. NYSNA nurses have been and continue to be on the frontlines of the Coronavirus pandemic, and I am proud to stand with them as they fight to improve care and working conditions.”

Assembly Member Amanda Septimo said: “By accepting public funding, Montefiore has taken on the responsibility to fairly and equitably serve our communities. And yet, during our state's COVID-19 crisis, by closing facilities and reallocating resources to wealthier, whiter, neighborhoods, Montefiore let down our underserved and understaffed communities when we needed them the most. We must hold Montefiore, and other state hospital systems, accountable to a fair and equitable standard of care by demanding full transparency into how public subsidies have been spent, as well as insisting on detailed reports on patients and healthcare workers by race. If Montefiore, or other state health care systems, are not meeting a basic threshold of equitable, quality service, funding should be redistributed to other organizations that will meet that commitment.”

Assembly Member Chris Burdick said: “It is absolutely critical to the safety of nurses as well their patients that the State Legislature immediately pass the safe staffing bill for nursing homes and hospitals. Let’s not have any more avoidable deaths. Furthermore, Montefiore must provide full transparency and accountability to the community it serves. They must do the right thing.”

"Inadequate staffing endangers nurses and patients alike. We can't continue having nurses who are overworked and under-supported as hospital executives seek to lower costs and increase market profits. I would like to know if my 65-year-old mother with health problems was to be ever admitted into a hospital that adequate staffing was available. Adequate staffing to lower the likelihood of death from failing to properly respond to my mom's symptoms,” said Anthony Feliciano, Director of the Commission on the Public's Health System.

Devon Gilliams of Doctors Council SEIU said, "Doctors Council stands with the nurses and NYSNA in support of all patients and communities having timely access to quality and affordable health care. Healthcare is a human right. As doctors that work on the frontlines taking care of patients, we know the value and need for full-service hospitals with proper funding and safe staffing. The NYNSA report raises serious questions that must be addressed. We have seen how the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted communities of color and the most vulnerable.  We should be protecting services not cutting. We call on Montefiore to immediately reopen the ICU at Mount Vernon Hospital and to pledge to invest in the hospital with an emphasis on equal access for all.  We do so because this is the right thing to do for patients, the community and the staff of the hospital."

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The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) represents more than 42,000 members in New York State. We are New York’s largest union and professional association for registered nurses. More information at nysna.org.

The Save and Transform Mount Vernon Coalition is community organizations and advocates, faith, labor, and elected leaders joining together to save and transform Mount Vernon Hospital. More information at savemvh.org

About NYSNA

We are 42,000 nurses working together to win safe staffing, keep hospitals open for care, stop the Wall Street attack on our patients, and win healthcare for all.