Even as Elmhurst faced “apocalyptic” conditions, 3,500 beds were free in other New York hospitals, some no more than 20 minutes away.
Jim Dwyer writes in the New York Times that in late March, as the most dire public health crisis in a century swept across New York, sick people and those caring for them faced a hospital system that was less than the sum of its mighty parts.
At Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, hundreds of Covid-19 patients arrived in need of more help than besieged medical workers could give. Patients were found dead in rooms. One medical resident described conditions as “apocalyptic.”
Yet at the same time, 3,500 beds were free in other New York hospitals, some no more than 20 minutes from Elmhurst, according to state records. The city, which runs Elmhurst, had a fleet of 26 new ambulances available to transfer patients.
Elmhurst, it seems, was trapped between the pressures of the moment and forces of history that put little value on the cooperation needed during a pandemic.
For decades, hospital organizations in New York, just as in many parts of the country, have existed as independent fiefs, rivals that had virtually nothing to do with each other.
The state is home to more than 200 hospitals private and public, run by about 80 nonprofit corporations and government agencies.
“We don’t really have a public health care ‘system,’” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said. “We have a system of hospitals.”
In the week that began March 16, the number of Covid-19 hospital patients increased tenfold.
The hospital networks stood on the brink of replicating the fatal confusion of Sept. 11, 2001, when the police and fire departments responding to the attacks at the World Trade Center did not work together or communicate, costing many lives.
Even as the hospitals scrambled to expand, Elmhurst revealed a gap that city and state officials had not foreseen: No single body existed to match patients with the beds that were already available across scores of separate systems and independent hospitals.