by Sascha Murillo, Community Organizer – Health Justice Program
Sharifa Kamga is 32 weeks pregnant with her second child. Until recently, Ms. Kamga was planning to deliver her baby at North Central Bronx Hospital (NCBH). In 2012, she delivered her first child at NCBH and was delighted by the care she received from the midwives there. But due to the recent suspension of Labor and Delivery services at NCBH, Ms. Kamga now must change her birth plan for her second child. After receiving a call in August informing her she would have to deliver at Jacobi Medical Center, Ms. Kamga will be forced to travel farther to get the care she needs.
Concerned about inadequate staffing and patient safety at Jacobi, the Health and Hospital Corporation (HHC) decided to suspend Labor and Delivery (L&D) services at NCBH and transfer all L&D staff to Jacobi, leaving Ms. Kamga—and many women like her—distressed and fearful.
Several aspects about the decision are troubling. Patients and NCBH staff were only given three days’ notice of the change. Additionally, many advocates are concerned that Jacobi does not have the capacity to serve the influx of new patients previously served by NCBH; in 2011, NCBH delivered 1,647 babies, which is quite the patient caseload to add to Jacobi’s 2,072 deliveries in the same year. Even with the added staff from NCBH, Jacobi will struggle to accommodate the increased patient volume.
But what is most troubling is that this closure is part of a larger pattern in New York City of cutting health care services in underserved communities. Until recently, Interfaith Medical Center and Long Island College Hospital, two financially struggling hospitals that serve predominantly low-income and immigrant communities of color in Brooklyn, were slated to close. Throughout the city, it is not uncommon for health services to be concentrated in wealthier neighborhoods, and for service providers in low-income areas to face financial hardship or closure.
Accordingly, people of color overwhelmingly make up NCBH’s patient population, and a significant proportion of that population speaks a language other than English at home (in 2012 alone, NCBH provided nearly 30,000 interpreter sessions in 72 languages). The closure of L&D services at NCBH, then, would adversely impact a community that already faces disproportionate rates of pre- and post-natal complications: Bronx communities have poorer maternal and infant health outcomes than the rest of NYC, and a report from the Bronx Health Link documents disparities in infant mortality, maternal illness and mortality, and access to prenatal care.
Advocates and hospital watchdogs have reason to be alarmed, pointing to the impact of previous cuts to care services in the North Bronx. In 2009, NCBH suffered a dramatic loss in services and midwives, which undermined the award-winning midwifery practice at NCBH. Having had the lowest rates of cesarean sections in the city in 2008, the North Bronx has since seen C-section rates skyrocket by 90%.
“These are families,” says Ms. Kamga. “This is not about numbers. You are actually displacing families whose lives will be affected by this one decision. It’s a big deal.” Further cutting services at NCBH will disproportionately harm women and infants in the North Bronx and only exacerbate existing disparities in both access to care and overall health. It is imperative that the L&D services at NCBH remain open and accessible to North Bronx residents. To voice opposition to the closure of L&D services at NCBH, moms in the community, health advocates, and health providers will be rallying in front of North Central Bronx Hospital this Friday, September 20, at 11 AM. Please join us to demand that HHC reopen L&D at NCBH. You can also sign our petition here.