500 Days That Crippled Mount Vernon
I apologize in advance for the tone of this article, but I’m tired of watching the so-called “leaders” of this City continue to fail its citizens. It’s been over 500 DAYS (almost a year and a half) since Montefiore announced its plans to close Mount Vernon Hospital and the first rally occurred. Since then, nothing has changed except the rallies are attracting less and less people, most of them not from Mount Vernon.
Two COVID-19 pandemics took a disproportionate toll on our community, killing twice as many people as other communities. And, in the middle of it all, Montefiore has quietly proceeded with its plans to close Mount Vernon Hospital.
In October 2019, I wrote this in the Mayor’s newsletter:
“There are a number of reasons hospitals fail. One of them, unfortunately, is that they were never allowed to succeed. Mount Vernon’s hospital is one of those stories. We cannot sit idle and watch this hospital close down. Mayor Wallace has a plan to keep it open, expand its services, and attract the critical investment it needs to succeed.
Mayor Wallace has already reached out to experts who specialize in turning hospitals like Mount Vernon’s around, who have done it successfully. Financing is available through state and federal resources. Combined with private partnerships, Mount Vernon’s residents could see an expanded level of care, including OB-GYN, long-term adult care, mental health, dialysis, and treatment of chronic illness. Mayor Wallace can make it happen.”
Even though I didn’t win the election for Mayor, I didn’t give up on the hospital. I’ve been working for the last 18 months on trying to save this hospital. I’ve assembled a team – the right team – to turn it around. I’ve secured the money needed to make sure their efforts succeed. And, I’ve approached every politician and person I know in this State who can help get this project off the ground. There’s no money in this for me. It takes me away from other projects, but I’m just tired of watching our City erode into irrelevance. I’m tired of watching our elected leaders hold rallies but come up with NO PLAN WHATSOEVER to save this hospital.
Saving our hospital has always been especially important to me because I was raised by parents who worked their entire lives in the healthcare industry. My mother, Beryl Wallace, worked for North Central Hospital as head nurse of 2D until the day she passed. And, my father, Wally Wallace, worked at Montefiore and Einstein Hospital as a biomedical engineer for over 40 years. I grew up listening to conversations about healthcare, the importance of unions, and the unjust disparity in healthcare between communities.
Hospitals don’t fix themselves. Money from the Federal government will not magically fix the structural and systemic problems that have created the healthcare crisis in Mount Vernon. You need an EXPERIENCED TEAM of people who know how to run a hospital, provide the right care to the community, navigate reimbursement schemes, unwind legal nightmares and liabilities, negotiate fairly with the unions who work in the hospital, and experts who can reach out to the community to build trust again. Most of all, we need committed funding to upgrade facilities, attract doctors and nurses, train staff, build out new practice areas and specialties that fit the community, not vice versa.
All of that was in place 500 days ago. I’m not sure I can continue to say the same thing anymore. Specialist teams like this move on to other hospitals that need their help. Money moves on to other places that are motivated and ready to solve problems. After 18 months of cajoling, promising, convincing, and begging to keep this team, the money, and this plan in place, I recently received a call with some distressing news, “If we can’t put something together in the next two weeks, we will need to move on.”
And, just like that, the best chance to save this hospital just dumped Mount Vernon. Not because they don’t want to help. Not because they can’t help. Simply because our politicians can’t get out of their own way to accept help, and other communities who need their help are ready to move forward. We need to stop pretending that the world is turning its back on us, especially when we keep slamming the door in its face.
Politics in Mount Vernon is a zero-sum game. We saw this play out with Memorial Field, and the same thing is happening again with the hospital. If someone succeeds, the theory goes, then someone else thinks they have to fail. So, they don’t support a plan because someone else might get credit. It’s shameful and petty. It’s why we don’t have a lot of things in this City.
With the exception of Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, who has been helpful in working on this issue with us, every other politician completely ignored our plan. I sent letters to the Governor, copying everyone on them, including the Mayor and the City Council. I’ve called Montefiore over a dozen times to make a deal. No one could be bothered to even hold a meeting with the investors and the team. Not one phone call. It’s not about healthcare or money – this is all purely political.
If you want to know why you won’t have a hospital in Mount Vernon this time next year, blame petty, juvenile politics as you trek across the county for your next medical procedure. People will die in our community because they do not have access to adequate healthcare. And, every politician who sat on their hands and did nothing for the last 500 days will have to live with those deaths on their conscience.
I never gave up on this City and neither should any of you. If you want to save Mount Vernon Hospital, call your elected officials and start asking questions. Ask them what’s their plan to save the hospital besides rallying. If they tell you they have one, ask them to present it. If they can’t do that, ask them why they haven’t supported the only plan that has been put forward. No matter what they say, TELL them it’s time to stop playing politics with people’s lives.
Don’t allow our hospital to be shut down because, once it closes, it will not reopen. We need this hospital to save lives in our community, and everyone needs to get involved. The life this hospital saves one day may be your own!
If you have thoughts or comments about this issue or any other, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.