City Health and Hospital Corp. officials are drawing both praise and condemnation over the long-delayed opening of a Bronx hospital maternity unit.
While local politicians were putting a positive spin on it a press conference on Monday, March 17, the community forum the next evening at North Central Bronx Hospital was less rosy.
Nurses, midwives and concerned community members complained about the abruptness of the maternity ward closure in August 2013 and said there was a lack of dialogue around the both the suspension of services and the reopening.
A panel of representatives from HHC and NCBH tried to reassure the crowd that they were on track to reopen the labor and delivery unit around the end of summer 2014. But one official called the target date an “optimistic” one.
With HHC’s sudden closing of the unit, major problems with its shift to Jacobi Medical Center, and a shifting reopening schedule, Sandra Lobo-Jost, president of the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy coalition, complained “There’s very little trust that’s left.”
She asked for more dialogue between the hospital and community, including monthly meetings where interested parties could provide input on the reopening process.
LaRay Brown, HHC senior vice president, would not commit to monthly meetings, but said she would work with community group leaders to schedule meetings based on specific goals and milestones. Another community forum is scheduled for early April.
Throughout the meeting, community members continued to restate the importance of reestablishing the midwife-centric model that made the hospital a great place to give birth before the unit was closed.
Anastasia Libovich, a Norwood resident and midwife, asked whether the salary for midwives would be raised from the previously low salary to a competitive rate to attract new hires. HHC Senior Vice President William Walsh said there is a proposal to do that which hasn’t yet been approved.
But Dr. Michael Zinaman, the new chair of the OB-GYN department at NCBH, said the hospital was committed to maintaining the successful midwife model. The hospital will be hiring more midwives than they had on staff several years ago, he said, and the staffing plan also increases the number of nurses.
Zinaman said he has hired about three-fourths of the doctors needed so far, and that they are experienced, mid-career physicians. Lack of senior obstetricians at NCBH and Jacobi Medical Center was cited as the reason for the closing of the unit.
Zinaman noted that health care safety regulations mean it takes months to certify new hires.
“When you hear “end of summer,” that’s optimistic, but I think we can get it done” said Zinaman.
Both community members and hospital staff at the forum recongized that there is still a lot of work ahead of the reopening.
“The appropriate time for a press conference will come when the center is both open and staffed with senior attending obstetricians,” Councilmember Ritchie Torres said in a statement about the Monday presser. “Declaring ‘mission accomplished,’ before the mission is accomplished, is premature.”
The next community forum will be 6:30 p.m. April 8, at the North Bronx Central Hospital, 17th floor, 3424 Kossuth Ave.