It's the story NYC Health & Hospitals' Chief Executive Dr. Ram Raju wishes would just go away.
But Tuesday morning, at least one New York City Council member made sure that didn't happen. The New York Post's cover story published Sunday featured a single anonymous doctor describing dangerous conditions at the public system's Coney Island Hospital. In it the doctor said, "It was like they didn't care if this child died.”
The hospital system immediately pushed back against the story, calling it "full of holes and absurd claims."
And in an email yesterday to Coney Island Hospital staff members, Raju wrote:
"Let us not be distracted by misguided attempts to tear down the essential work of the public hospital system. Instead, let's remain united in our resolve to serve our patients with excellence. Coney Island Hospital—we are with you."
When Crain's contacted the Post to learn more about the origin of the story, the newspaper defended the account. "We stand by our reporting," a spokeswoman for the newspaper said.
At a city budget hearing Tuesday, it appeared the Post story had its desired effect: catching the attention of a local official and shining a spotlight on patient-safety issues at the hospital.
Council member Peter Koo, a Democrat who represents Flushing, said he read the article and asked Raju whether there were patient-safety problems at Coney Island Hospital. Koo specifically brought up a point the Post had raised about whether the facility was understaffed and needed to hire more nurses. "Is this a big problem at Health & Hospitals?" he asked.
Raju responded by describing the system's commitment to quality care and then went on to slam the Post.
"That is an anonymous article with a lot of loopholes in it, with a lot of untrue statements," he said. "It disparages my nurses and doctors. I cannot believe that any one of my nurses will wait to see a patient die and do nothing about it."
Then his defense took an interesting turn. Raju said he has received care from a physician at Coney Island Hospital for 15 years. Raju also sends his children the hospital. "My kids are safe. They go there," he said. "I'm not going to give any more credence to that anonymous, unsubstantiated article." The Post's anonymous source was a pediatric resident, a doctor training under the supervision of an attending physician.
But Raju hadn't yet answered Koo's question so the councilman asked again, "Is understaffing a problem in New York City hospitals?"
After acknowledging that the city has some hospital emergency departments that are very busy, Raju defended the 11-hospital municipal health system's staffing levels.
"Nowhere in the system has understaffing provided bad quality results that we are aware of," he said. The quality of public hospitals compares well to the city's "brand-name" hospitals, Raju said.
With those remarks he hoped to put the story to bed and moved on to taking probing questions from council members on how Health & Hospitals will close a potential $1.8 billion budget gap by fiscal 2020.
"City hospitals' chief responds to New York Post takedown of Coney Island Hospital" originally appeared in Crain's New York Business.