Just as they watch the canary in the coal mine, all eyes now are anxiously focused on Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, the first and hopefully last hospital victim of the anthrax scare.
After top-to-bottom testing, medical investigators gave the 30-bed facility a clean bill of health last week, and the hospital reopened to patients Nov. 6. That may have been a relief to hospital officials, who closed the doors in late October after a supply room worker mysteriously contracted and later died from pulmonary anthrax, but it dumbfounded investigators trying to determine how the deadly bacteria was spread.
After finding no traces of anthrax, officials advised all hospital employees, patients and visitors who were started on preventive antibiotics-more than 1,100 people-to discontinue taking the medication.
Officials at the hospital's parent, Lenox Hill Hospital, estimated they lost $700,000 in revenue by closing the hospital, which primarily provides outpatient services in New York's Upper East Side.
At the hospital's reopening, city officials praised the cooperative and professional spirit that prevailed as the most bewildering of all anthrax cases to date unfolded. New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani commended the hospital staff for its "cautious and sensible approach." City Health Commissioner Neal Cohen, M.D., said it would be impossible for the health department to do its job without the medical community's collaboration.
The mayor, who has appeared wearing a variety of baseball hats in the days since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, was given yet another-this one with the hospital's name on it. He put it on.
Kathy Nguyen, 61, died Oct. 31, three days after she was admitted to Lenox Hill Hospital. She worked in the basement supply room near a mailroom, but tests for the most part have ruled out the possibility of cross-contamination from an anthrax-laced letter. Epidemiologists are classifying her case as an "outlier," while the city medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. Nguyen was buried in the Bronx Nov. 5 after an emotional church service attended by hundreds of people. A memorial reception was held at the hospital after the funeral.