COVID-19 Vaccine — Earlier this month, NY State expanded eligibility to individuals with a variety of health conditions, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. That means that many more New Yorkers, and many more patients in our system, are now eligible to get vaccinated. But as eligibility expanded, so did the challenges of securing a steady supply of vaccine. The State and City had been running out of supply as a result of distribution delays caused by weather conditions across the country. Many vaccination sites across the City had to reschedule appointments, including some of our own sites. I’m pleased to report that we have since received additional supply and are hopeful that we will soon have a steady and reliable flow of supply so we can continue to vaccinate as many eligible people as possible, particularly the most vulnerable New Yorkers under our care.
Despite the challenges the State of New York is facing with securing a steady supply of vaccines, our health system reached an exciting milestone in our vaccination program. Last week we celebrated the 100,000 NYC Vax Champ – the 100,000 New Yorker who received a first dose of the vaccine at an NYC Health + Hospitals facility. The dose was administered at NYC Health + Hospitals/North Central Bronx to a health information management employee, Robert Fields. Fields has been with the health system for 21 years, having spent some years working at NYC Health + Hospitals/Jacobi before arriving at North Central Bronx. Every milestone we’ve reached during the COVID-19 pandemic – from testing to hospital discharges, and now vaccinations – reassures us a little bit more that there is an eventual end to this pandemic. I can’t thank our workforce enough for facilitating the complicated logistics of vaccine distribution, and for their commitment to keeping New Yorkers safe and reaching an end to this pandemic.
We also teamed up with our labor partners from 1199SEIU, the New York State Nurses Association, and the Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York to further encourage staff to get their COVID-19 vaccine. Labor partners encouraged their members to get their COVID-19 vaccine through a series of short videos, like this and this, explaining the benefits, safety, and efficacy of the vaccine. These three unions together represent more than 11,500 NYC Health + Hospitals employees. Our diverse, unionized workforce is represented by committed labor leaders who care deeply about their members, our employees and our City. We are proud to partner with them and share their influential voices to support our efforts to encourage our heroic staff, to get their COVID-19 vaccine. We will continue doing everything we can to educate and encourage our staff to get their COVID-19 vaccine, as a commitment to their safety and wellbeing during this horrible pandemic. We will also continue to meet our staff members where they feel most comfortable, recognize that hesitancy is real even among health care workers, and continue this important dialogue as we vaccinate more and more of our colleagues.
NYC Test & Trace Corps – With the help of our NYC Test & Trace Corps, New York City has now performed more than 120,000 tests in a single day. Our health system has done more than 1.2 million COVID-19 tests across our hospitals, Gotham Health sites and all the Test & Trace site we manage. Our team of 4,000 contact tracers has reached a higher proportion of all new cases than any other jurisdiction we are familiar with in the county. Our hotel program to help New Yorkers safely separate if they feel sick or have been exposed to the virus has reached the milestone of 10,000 guests who have received a free and safe hotel room, with free meals, round trip transportation, and onsite clinical monitoring.
COVID-19 Centers of Excellence – Mayor Bill de Blasio joined NYC Health + Hospitals/Gotham Health leadership yesterday to mark the opening of the second of three COVID-19 Centers of Excellence we plan to open to serve communities hardest hit by the pandemic. The new center is located in Jackson Heights, Queens, and will support recovering COVID-19 patients beginning March 1, 2021. The center will offer specialized services like pulmonary and cardiology care, radiology and diagnostic services, and mental health services. The 26,000 square-foot community health clinic will house 20 exam rooms, in addition to a digital imaging suite. The center will also offer comprehensive primary care health services for Queens residents, including cancer screenings, dental and vision care, diabetes management, podiatry, adult medicine, pediatrics, and much more. We are so excited to open our second COVID-19 Center of Excellence in a community that has suffered so much during this pandemic. As we continue to learn more about the long-lasting health impacts of this pandemic, we’re being proactive to create medical homes for New Yorkers. This site will not only provide critical health support to those still recovering from COVID-19, but also provide new opportunities for this community to access high-quality, ongoing primary care.
As a preface, I want to note that in this unprecedented time, we are especially mindful of the important role our elected officials and local leaders play to support and defend NYC Health + Hospitals. We are honored to collaborate with so many of our community-based colleagues and partners in government. In particular, I want to note how grateful we are to be working with United States Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer. Senator Schumer has long been a champion of New York’s hospitals and a stalwart defender of NYC Health + Hospitals. He has supported our work for years, including his recent efforts to secure critically needed FEMA funding for our facilities. We are thrilled to have a home-town hero serving as our Senate Leader and look forward to our ongoing collaboration with Senator Schumer and so many of our champions in government. City – NYC Health + Hospitals will participate in a hearing the City Council Hospital Committee is holding on March 1, regarding Access to Language Services and Equitable Care in NYC Hospitals during COVID-19. In addition, we will testify at our preliminary City budget hearing in March, though the final date is not yet fixed. NYC Health + Hospitals leaders work closely with our Council Members, particularly Hospital Committee Chair Carlina Rivera. We are always grateful for these collaborations.
State – It is State budget season, and NYC Health + Hospitals is advocating fiercely against budget cuts that would weaken our stability, and that of other essential safety net providers. The proposed Executive budget closes a combined budget gap of $15 billion over State fiscal years 2020-21 and 2021-22. Unfortunately, some of the proposals to eliminate the deficit would significantly impact NYC Health + Hospitals and MetroPlus. We are specifically advocating against the elimination of the Indigent Care Pool and proposed across-the-board Medicaid cuts. We are also supporting improvements to the State telehealth system, including parity provisions for audio-only telehealth encounters. We are partnering with legislative leaders, labor partners, our Community Advisory Boards, health care advocates, and other stakeholders to stave off cuts and protect our safety net. We are leveraging technology to maintain and even expand our annual advocacy, and we are grateful to all who are working with us. The State budget process must be concluded by March 31.
Federal – Legislation guided by President Biden’s $1.9T COVID-19 relief plan is making its way through the House. A vote is expected before the end of this week. The package will then move into the Senate, which will use the budget reconciliation process. This requires only a simple majority (all 50 Democrats + Vice President Harris as the tiebreaking vote) to likely pass the bill. The guiding deadline for passing this legislation is March 14, the expiration date for various unemployment benefits enacted via previous COVID relief bills. NYC Health + Hospitals is seeking support to make a technical legislative change to address an inadvertent problem previously caused by an Federal Medical Assistance Percentage enhancement that did not factor in the impact of the increase on Disproportional Share Hospital payments. We are working with our champions in Congress, particularly Leader Schumer and Senator Gillibrand, as well as hospital colleagues around the country and our associations to advance our priorities.
NYC Care, the NYC Health + Hospitals health care access program that guarantees health care for all New Yorkers regardless of income or immigration status, surpassed 50,000 members across the five boroughs. The program continues to fulfill its mission to dramatically change the way our public health care system connects the most vulnerable New Yorkers to primary and specialty care. This milestone builds on our efforts to reach more New Yorkers in the communities hardest-hit by COVID-19 to ensure they receive comprehensive access to health care. The impact of the virus has been more significant on New Yorkers in these communities who are not eligible or cannot afford health insurance. Since the beginning of the pandemic, NYC Care has added over 34,000 members, and approximately 61 percent of current members live in the 33 neighborhoods identified by the NYC Taskforce on Racial Inclusion and Equity as hardest hit by COVID-19. This milestone is important as we understand the critical role we play in supporting recovery and care and continue to navigate the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable communities and populations. We are deeply committed to supporting the health and well-being of all those we serve now more than ever as New York City moves forward.
NYC Health + Hospitals provides affordable, comprehensive dental services to children and adults across all our hospitals and our Gotham Health centers. Some of our dental clinics offer evening and weekend hours. Last year, we provided some 300,000 dental visits to approximately 100,000 New Yorkers. We have approximately 300 trained dental professionals serving in various roles, including dentists, pediatric dental specialists, oral maxillofacial surgeons and dental assistants. Our health system also sponsors a number of dental residency training programs to build a pipeline of dental services providers who understand the special needs of the communities we serve. This year, we plan to extend dental services with the opening of our new Gotham Health COVID-19 Centers of Excellence in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, where we will provide comprehensive primary care, as well as dental care, and specialized services to survivors of the virus. We expect to offer more than 15,000 dental visits across the three new locations, with a focus on preventive care, which includes oral exams, prophylaxis, sealants and fluoride treatment for children and adults.
NYC Health + Hospitals announced the appointment of Helen Arteaga Landaverde, MPH as the CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst and Neil J. Moore, MBA, MPA, FACHE as CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens. Arteaga and Moore will help lead the hospitals’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, continue to grow innovative programs, and re-engineer processes to increase access to affordable and comprehensive health care for all patients.
In addition to their professional accomplishments, Arteaga and Moore bring with them a deep personal connection to the public health system and the communities in Queens they will serve. Ms. Arteaga is a long-standing resident of Corona, Queens who has worked closely with communities across the borough for more than 20 years helping to bridge challenges to high-quality health care and social services that further improve overall wellness. As a native from Ecuador, she also speaks fluent Spanish, a prominent language of patients serviced by the hospital. She has also served on the Board of Directors for NYC Health + Hospitals since 2016. Mr. Moore is returning to the City’s public health system after dedicating a decade to various financial and operating roles at NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem, Kings County, and Woodhull. We’re all excited to welcome two New Yorkers, who have history with our health system, to lead our two Queens hospitals.
From May 2020 through February 2021, our post-acute care facilities have successfully completed 27 Infection Control Surveys conducted by the State. During these unannounced surveys, DOH surveyors review COVID-19 facility policies and procedures, COVID-19 surveillance data tracking and employee files. In addition, surveyors conduct medical record reviews, clinical rounds, resident and family interviews and staff interviews and observations of infection prevention practices. I’m pleased to report that our five nursing facilities are in full compliance with these State standards and I congratulate our nursing facility teams for their commitment to providing safe, quality, compassionate care to our residents and their families, particularly during these challenging times of the pandemic.
I approved a Declaration of Emergency dated March 1, 2020, which was subsequently updated and has been reissued through February 28, 2021. For the time period January 1, 2021 through January 31, 2021, the Office of Facilities Development issued two work orders to continue facility infrastructure updates supporting care for COVID-19 patients, and the System entered into eight new emergency agreements: two hotel agreements for COVID-19 related quarantine services as part of the NYC Test + Trace program, and six agreements with vendors to conduct extensive community outreach in New York City neighborhoods with high incidence of COVID-19. Two of these six vendors are MWBE firms and the other four all provided MWBE utilization plans. These agreements and work orders have a maximum authorized spend of $38,212,832.