By George Capsis
“We publish too much hospital stuff,” Liza, our Traffic Manager, dryly quoted a WestView reader. I winced and thought “maybe” and then a Dusty miracle occurred—I accessed the unpublished manuscript of a heart attack surgeon who opens his book with, “Most of us will die of a heart attack.” Actually, it is one out of every three—the number one cause of death in the U.S. and, of course, here in the West Village as well.
As Arthur Schwartz prepared to write for the February issue of WestView, he felt a frighteningly familiar pain that kept insisting he was about to have a heart attack. As they got into the car, his wife asked anxiously, “Where do you want to go?” He thought, “Beth Israel is closing and it may have already lost its best heart surgeons. The nearest medical facility is the ‘Healthplex,’ so I better go there. Who knows how bad this is…I want to put myself in medical hands as soon as possible.” So his wife drove him to the gleamingly white crenelated urgent care facility on 13th Street and 7th Avenue. He then texted me: “I think I am having a heart attack.”
But the Lenox Health Greenwich Village (Northwell) urgent care facility could only give him an EKG that confirmed a heart attack. They did not have a Cath Lab that could insert a flexible rod (catheter) into his main arteries and break up the blockage. For that, he had to be ambulanced to Beth Israel on 16th Street and 1st Avenue.
What Arthur found out during his three days in the Cath Lab of Beth Israel was that it was closing down piecemeal. The operating room that stood near the Cath Lab, just in case a metal catheter slipped and punctured an artery, had been closed the week before and could no longer perform bypass surgery.
Arthur also came to the conclusion, with the help of his veteran nurses, that the 70-bed hospital they were offering to build on the small parking lot on 13th Street near 1st Avenue could not replace the once over-800-bed Beth Israel Hospital—“It is a joke.”
You can’t open or close a hospital without informing the NYS Department of Health Commissioner. At the public meeting on October 27, 2016, Mount Sinai repeatedly assured the audience that they would continue to fully serve their medical community. However, a storefront urgent care center cannot perform heart surgery. Still, they are getting approvals slice by slice. Additionally, we have to assume that, as soon as they empty a building, it will be sold for luxury condos.
There is one more all-important factor—time.
When the angioplasty procedure was first perfected (the insertion of a balloon at the head of a catheter to break up a blockage and the insertion of a stent to keep the passage open) the time between when the patient hit the emergency loading dock and the full operating team was assembled and ready to operate was 90 minutes. That was reduced to 60 minutes and now it is 30 minutes—so precious is this survival time.
Five years ago, if we felt it coming on, we could walk to the St. Vincent’s Emergency Room to have our heart attack aborted. Now, we must ambulance to Beth Israel at 16th Street and 1st Avenue. But when that facility goes (and that can happen any time that Mount Sinai management decides) you will have to ambulance up to the crowded City hospital Bellevue, which was just reported as being profoundly in debt.
You have to ask how many will die in the ambulance. I keep thinking of what Dr. David Kaufman said: “Nobody is counting…”