To Have & Have Not: Healthcare Style

By Michael Kaufman

Across the street from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, where my wife Eva-Lynne had surgery recently, a sign welcomes visitors to the George Washington Carver Houses, home to more than 2,800 residents, most of whom will never see the inside of Mount Sinai Hospital unless they work there. The same is true of the many other public housing projects that extend further north into East Harlem, also known as Spanish Harlem because the majority of residents in the neighborhood are Latino. This is not because the people who live in the projects are healthier than other people. They are just poorer.

When they get sick they go to Metropolitan Hospital, a public facility administered by the city’s Health and Hospital Corporation. The doctors, nurses and other members of the healthcare team at Metropolitan do their best — but it is often not nearly enough, as described by comments posted online by patients:

“I had the misfortune of having to go the ER and not know any better. Please don’t go to this hospital, even if it’s the closest one and your life is in danger. My boyfriend and I recently spent nearly 10 hours in the ER just WAITING to get my test results back. The room I was in had chipped tiles and paint peeling off of the walls. The bathroom I had to use was possibly the most unsanitary one I’ve seen. The bathrooms at Starbucks and McDonalds are more sanitary…. There wasn’t an emergency call button to push in case you needed a nurse. I was lucky enough to have my boyfriend with me to flag down a nurse when I needed oxygen, but even then, that took forever to get a response.”

“After a short time in the ER waiting room, I did have to wait a few hours on a bed behind a curtain to see an actual doctor…. A male nurse was exceptionally professional and drew my blood and hooked me up to an IV. A female intern was also professional and asked me what the problem was. The actual doctor who examined me was to the point, but also professional. There were horrific moans and cursing and occasional screaming from other patients in the emergency room (homeless, very poor, mentally ill), and I felt I was going nuts listening to all this. So I am in awe of the people who have to work there every day. I could not do it.”

“Not a bad place, when considering that this is one of the only major hospitals in the area after Mount Sinai. However, this hospital lacks so many basic amenities that other locations such as Bellevue have. It seemed to me last time I went that doctors were not aware of what is going on with patients and the nurses double as the receptionists.”

Across town at Mount Sinai the waiting room is crowded but comfortable and several receptionists are on hand to direct people to their destinations. A food court one flight downstairs sells sandwiches, salads, bakery items, juice, soft drinks and Starbucks coffee. While waiting to be admitted, patients may read a brochure for “Eleven West at Mount Sinai,” a section of the hospital reserved for the super rich, so exclusive that none of the hospital employees I asked could even tell me how much it cost to stay there. None of the nurses or aides who cared for Eva-Lynne during her stay had ever entered its hallowed halls. Reading the description made me wish I was a sick rich guy.

“A total of 19 rooms and suites makes up Eleven West, each with its own private bathroom.” A photo shows a huge room with fine furniture and two windows offering magnificent views. “Premium features” available to patients include “cuisine that matches top New York City dining.” (Eva-Lynne got some watery cream of wheat for breakfast. The night before when she asked for a second cup of yogurt they said they were all out.) If only she had stayed in Eleven West. There “each meal is memorable….thanks to a private kitchen that offers gourmet meals three times daily to patients and their guests.” Culinary-trained chef Juliet DaSilva-Inniss’ “signature selections” include Moroccan Spiced Rack of Lamb served with Jewel Couscous and Sauteed Seasonal Vegetables, and Wild Salmon Wrapped in Yukon Gold Potato Crust served with Oven Roated Asparagus and Mango Aioli.” Which do you think Donald Trump would order if he had to go in for, say, a hernia or maybe a hair-transplant procedure?

Eva-Lynne really would have liked a couple of the other premium features too, especially the ”reverse sateen, 300-thread count bed linens” and complimentary monogrammed white robe“ upon admission.” She got scratchy sheets and the same unflattering green hospital gown that Jack Nicholson memorably wore in As Good As it Gets.  (If you didn’t see the movie, let’s just say that buns of steel he didn’t have.) She would also have enjoyed the “daily afternoon tea in the sitting room.” I can just hear her asking if they have chamomile and would they mind bringing some honey to go with it.

Maybe she would even have liked having a “private television with cable service.” We tried to get the one in her room to work so we could watch the current Korean drama, Love, My Love, but we couldn’t figure out how to put the order in. You had to use both the telephone in the room and the remote control of the TV to make the $10 payment. When one of the nurses saw us struggling she tried to help but after about 10 minutes of futility she gave up. “They changed the system,” she said. “It used to be much easier.” We didn’t mind that much because we had the DVR set to record that night’s episode and we watched it after we got home. (Yunsik still didn’t want Seunghi to marry Dongyeong for reasons too complicated to go into here. But one thing is for sure: No way is she going to end up with Taebeom!)

We didn’t get any “complimentary Belgian chocolates upon discharge,” either. We got a parking ticket. And we are still a whole lot better off than the people who have to go to Metropolitan Hospital for treatment.

Michael can be reached at

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3 Responses to “To Have & Have Not: Healthcare Style”

  1. Jim Gilbert Says:

    Thanks Mike
    Very important topic and as usual, very well documented. Health care in the USA is very, very successful – from a ‘free market’ based perspective. It generates a level of profit that could make Michelle Bachman and her hubby break out into spontaneous dance. We spend much more on health care that any other comparative country, yet the US ranks 37th among industrialized nations in quality of healthcare. But as your article demonstrates, the ranking of 37th is not descriptive of the total picture. This extreme profit generating system leaves the poor and the uninsured in unspeakably inhuman straits. The Metropolitan ER situation that you describe is prototypical to all ER’s that serve poor people. I work in an outpatient mental health facility that predominately serves the South Bronx. The local ER repeatedly sends us referrals who require intensive treatment that neither we nor they can properly provide. Following the referral of an acutely psychotic patient (both homicidal & suicidal) for outpatient treatment I called the ER and expressed my displeasure. I used the term ‘dumping ground’ and made reference to their lack of professionalism, maturity and intelligence. Rather than debate the issue, the attending that I spoke to provided enlightenment on the systemic failures of our healthcare system. She related to me that this ER processes over 100,000 patients a year and is equipped to service approximately 40,000.God Bless the ER Workers.

  2. Randy Hurst Says:

    What can one say? It is a disgrace, much like environmental issues, energy, common sense. America, I fear, is lost!

  3. Michael Kaufman Says:

    As discouraging as it may seem at times I don’t agree that “America is lost.” Many people are actively engaged in efforts to end disparities in healthcare. Many are also involved in organizations devoted to protecting the environment and to production of safer, cleaner energy. I like to think that common sense will eventually prevail despite the obstacles (formidable as they are) imposed by the relative few who profit from the status quo.

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