Northwell Health’s $2.5 billion expansion plan for the Lenox Hill Hospital is facing vehement opposition from healthcare advocates who say the project neglects communities of color because it serves one of the city’s whitest enclaves rather than underserved neighborhoods that need more investment.
These communities in the outer boroughs have been disproportionately devastated by the pandemic, the hospital’s opponents say, and the last thing the city needs is a luxury facility in an affluent neighborhood with ample health care resources.
“As citizens of New York, we’re scratching our heads saying how can Northwell propose this?” said Derek Dillon, a founder of the Committee to Protect Our Lenox Hill Neighborhood.
The hospital defended its development plan.
“To label this project, after listening to our process and plans to develop a state-of-the-art hospital for the community, as racist is utterly absurd,” said Joseph Kemp, a spokesman for Northwell. “Lenox Hill draws patients from 72 ZIP codes throughout the metropolitan area–56% of whom are nonwhite and 21% insured by Medicaid. The data shows that we not only take care of people who live in nearby communities, but also our neighbors who come to us from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.”
Manhattan has 23 hospitals, according to figures from the state’s Department of Health and reported the lowest number of Covid-19 deaths. Queens and the Bronx—where there are 11 hospitals each and residents are overwhelmingly nonwhite—reported the highest number of deaths. Death counts for Black and Hispanic New Yorkers were the highest across all boroughs.
“This hospital would serve only to worsen ethnic and racial disparities and access to hospital care,” said Lois Uttley, the director of the Women’s Health program at Community Catalyst. “We do not need more and fancier hospital beds in the affluent, largely white Upper East Side of Manhattan.”
The disparity also comes from a statewide campaign to close hospitals to cut costs. Twenty-three hospitals have been shuttered across the state since 2007, according to a New York State Health Foundation study. In 2017 the state lost 474 beds, and 43% of them were in the city.
Dillon’s organization initially opposed the hospital’s expansion because the proposed building was too large for the neighborhood. From a business perspective, the Upper East Side health care market was too saturated, he said.
Original plans included a 490-foot residential apartment tower and a new 516-foot hospital building with 475 additional beds. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Keith Powers convened a task force, including members of Community Board 8 to review the plans.
The task force has met five times, most recently in September, when Northwell was asked to reduce the height of the hospital tower and ax the apartments from the proposal. A new proposal introduced this week includes the changes, although the number of hospital beds is the same.
Neither Powers nor Brewer immediately responded to a request for comment.
Uttley said she has been urging legislators to put the pursuit of health equity at the top of their agenda in addressing the lessons learned during Covid-19. She’s making some headway, she said. Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried introduced a bill that would require applicants for health care projects such as this one to show how their proposals would reduce health care inequity.