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Why so many COVID deaths in NYC?

To begin to understand why so many people died in New York City at the start of the World Health Organization’s global health emergency (Jan. 30. 2020), one must first look at the city’s hospitals, and in particular, its municipal health system. It’s called NYC Health Hospitals (NYCHH), with 11 acute care hospitals. These hospitals serve the working poor, the unemployed, the illegal immigrants, the drug and alcohol addicted, the mentally impaired — and occasionally a visitor to the city who doesn’t know any better. Ambulance drivers avoid delivering patients there if at all possible. None of the city’s public health hospitals had a rating higher than D. Only one hospital in 46 in the entire city studied was given an A rating in 2019.

One of the most troubled hospitals in the city was Elmhurst, in Queens, one of the city’s five boroughs; it became the epicenter of deaths attributed to COVID-19 with 30,000 dead in the city by May, 2020, most of them at Elmhurst. Built during the Civil War in the 1850s, Elmhurst is a teaching hospital which means, especially in the case of public hospitals, it is staffed largely by interns and residents, with few actual MDs. Interns have gone through medical school but don’t have a license; they’re there for on-the-job training; residents are in the 2nd year of training, but usually are unlicensed also. The backbone of hospital care comes from the nurses; in most beleaguered hospitals like Elmhurst, MDs rarely see patients. And if not carefully monitored, interns and residents lord it over nurses who are inevitably fired when they raise objections.

A public comment in 2018 by a 13-year veteran New York City public health investigator paints the all too common assessment of Elmhurst: “…inadequate patient/staff ratio, poor medical record management, unsanitary conditions, inadequate supplies, negligence relating to proper treatment protocols and discharge procedures, failure to diagnose effectively, pharmacological errors, [a] high volume of misdiagnoses…” The former investigator, now an Arizona resident, noted that “Governor Cuomo’s office refuses to intervene, therefore these horrific actions and miscarriage of justice will continue placing more patients at risk…”

As is always the case with big city public health systems, the drive is to cut costs. This was especially true at Elmhurst. And then comes along COVID-19. As State Senator George Borrello pointed out at the time, New York’s Democrat-led majority in Albany in March, 2020 gave Gov. Cuomo nearly complete control of the State [see ‘Borrello Exposes Cuomo’s Dictatorial Powers’ on Chautauqua Updates/Youtube]. On March 23 the governor signed an Executive Order giving COVID-stressed medical workers immunity from prosecution for medical errors, also releasing them from the responsibility for maintaining comprehensive medical errors. Then, following the protocols issued by IHME (the Bill Gates-funded health statistics institute in Seattle), the governor mandated that relatives not be allowed access to patients in hospitals and nursing homes.

At this same time, Gov. Cuomo became the biggest pusher of high-priced ventilators to treat COVID patients. The governor was given an Emmy for his advocacy. And now, on top of this, the Federal Cares Act made $175 billion available to the stressed health care system for treatment of its COVID cases. Hospitals with COVID patients were reimbursed $13,000 for each bonafide COVID case, and another $39,000 for patients put on ventilators. That’s $52,000 for each ventilator patient. Elmhurst, like other public health hospitals in the city, couldn’t get enough patients. It might be a way to solve their financial crisis. No loved ones could look in on the treatment; virtually no records were kept. Nurses — many hired from around the nation during the crisis — would object that ventilators were not the best treatment for patients, but were invariably overruled by interns and residents.

If it wasn’t for nurse Erin Marie Olszewski, a young US Army veteran of the Iraq war, the story could have been kept under wraps for years, perhaps. Her book “Undercover Epicenter Nurse (How Fraud, Negligence & Greed Led to Unnecessary Deaths at Elmhurst Hospital”) is essential for those interested in understanding New York’s crisis and the governor’s role in it.

Roy Harvey was a reporter for the Chicago Defender, the city’s third largest newspaper. His series, ‘The Gangs: Who Benefits’, was submitted in 1979 by the Defender for a Pulitzer. It can be seen online. He is a Mayville resident.

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