NYC Health + Hospitals: ‘Humane, Competent and Welcoming Care’

Dr. Mitchell Katz, CEO of NYC Health and Hospitals, addressing community and ethnic media at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism (Photo by Max Resnik)

NYC Health and Hospitals system president and CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz on Thursday blasted the Department of Homeland Security for its plan to include health care benefits in determining the admissibility of immigrants seeking residence here, and said that “I worry greatly” about what the new proposed rule will mean for the city’s public health delivery system, which is the nation’s largest.

The system serves more than a million patients a year, has a budget of $7 billion and has 42,000 employees.

Dr. Katz spoke at a Newsmakers briefing held by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, his first formal meeting with the community and ethnic press in NYC since taking the job last January. Previously, he was director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, and prior to that he was director of the San Francisco Department of Health.

“One of the things that really distinguishes Health and Hospitals,” Dr. Katz said, “is not just an acceptance of caring for people who are undocumented or immigrants but really a welcoming of people who are undocumented or immigrants in this country, a sense that that’s really very much the whole reason for Health and Hospitals to be here – for the unusual situation, for the person who is not able to access care elsewhere to be able to receive care that is humane, that is competent, that is welcoming.”

He recalled the recent separation of children at the border from their parents, and how the agency posted a child psychiatrist at the Cayuga Centers in New York where some of the children were being held. While the center had “thoughtful mental health clinicians, they didn’t have the competency to deal with children who were suicidal, who had much more serious problems.” Health and Hospitals did that, he said, because “we exist to do that, and to provide care to people regardless of their ability to pay.”

In response to a question regarding fears that some undocumented individuals may have regarding information that may be gathered about them when they visit the public hospitals, Dr. Katz said that “we are prepared to do everything within our power to protect the rights of immigrants, whether they are documented or undocumented.” He said that no ICE officers had been in hospitals. No lists are maintained of the immigration status of anyone who has been treated in the system, and personal medical information is protected under HIPAA. He said he would personally be “prepared to burn records” before turning them over to anyone.

When Dr. Katz started at Health and Hospitals in NYC, the system had a budget deficit of $1.8 billion. By improving billing practices – Dr. Katz said that the system had neglected to bill some patients who had health insurance – patient revenues grew $150 million. In addition, he said the system needs to refer patients “to ourselves” for services such as nursing home care which can be billed to Medicare, and that will boost revenues as well. The system both takes care of people who don’t have insurance and people who do, and it’s possible to do both, and close the budget gap, he averred.

Dr. Katz has said that he wants to ramp up primary care provision in NYC, but suggested that might involve changing what he perceived to be a peculiarly local mindset. NYC is “not a primary care town. Poor people, rich people, everybody wants to see a specialist. They have a specialist for their left nostril, for their right nostril.” He regularly sees patients at NYC Health + Hospitals/Gouverneur, a community health center in lower Manhattan, and one Mandarin-speaking patient told him right off the bat “I’m here to see a specialist.” Her medical problem was, he said, totally within the ability of a general internist to take care of.

In discussing whether any of the 11 hospitals in the system would be closed, he said he has already committed not to close any.

He spoke directly about North Central Bronx Hospital. Norwood News’ Joseph Konig reports on Dr. Katz’s remarks:

North Central Bronx Hospital (NCBH) will “absolutely” stay open for the foreseeable future, New York Health + Hospital President Dr. Mitchell Katz said following longstanding rumors that the Norwood hospital will eventually close. In fact, Katz says, services will expand.

“If it’s going to be closed, it should be closed. If it’s going to be open, it should be open,” Katz (…) “So now I’ve looked at it and we’re going to expand services to the North Central Bronx.”

New York City Health + Hospitals, which includes NCBH among its three city-funded hospitals in the network, has not yet determined which areas of service will be introduced or expanded upon at North Central Bronx Hospital, press secretary Robert de Luna said.

“I didn’t really understand the dynamic and a group of providers told me that NCB has been threatened with closure since it opened,” Katz said with a laugh. “It’s a community venue. We’re absolutely not closing it.”

Dr. Katz said that  patient population of 100 or fewer might be the tipping point, but none of the hospitals in the system are close to that level, he noted.

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  1. Pingback: Center for Community and Ethnic Media – Newsmakers: Dr. Mitchell Katz Discusses NYC Public Health

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