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Key Government Stats Missing After Blown Reporting Deadlines — With COVID to Blame, Says City Hall

Doula Tia Dowling protests the death of Sha-asia Washington while giving birth at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn, July 9, 2020.
Doulas were among the protesters at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn following the death Sha-asia Washington in July. Now, an annual Health Department report on maternal mortality is indefinitely delayed.
Claudia Irizarry Aponte/THE CITY

A city Health Department annual report providing crucial insight into maternal deaths and health complications.

An update on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s five-year plan to combat homelessness.

Required biannual statistics on allegations of sexual assault against visitors to city jails and investigations of sexual abuse in local lockups.

These are among dozens of required statistical reports produced by city agencies that have failed to surface by recent deadlines, as flagged by the Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS).

The missing include periodic reports from the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Department of Homeless Services, Department of Corrections — and virtually every other city agency.

They also include the first progress report on de Blasio’s sweeping, self-proclaimed Green New Deal.

City Hall officials blamed the delays on the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic — including constraints brought on by remote work, layoffs and hiring freezes.

“Our city agencies have heroically worked to balance the urgent demands of the pandemic with non-COVID projects,” Avery Cohen, a de Blasio spokesperson, said in a statement on behalf of the mayor and the agencies. “In the interest of complete transparency, all agencies have been reminded to submit pending reports as soon as possible.”

Hundreds of Reports

City law mandates that agencies must submit all reports, documents, studies or publications required by local law or executive order through DORIS within 10 business days of their deadline.

A Delinquent Report Notice, submitted via DORIS and the Municipal Library, is triggered when an agency misses the mark.

The City Council has passed laws mandating more than 840 periodic reports seeking to shine light on government services, Gotham Gazette reported last year. There were so many that the Council passed yet another law asking DORIS for a report on its reports. More than half of the required reports had not arrived by the time DORIS did its tally.

Crushed by coronavirus pressures, some officials staring down deadlines earlier this year requested due date extensions from the City Council.

Friends, family and advocates call for Montifore Medical Center to be held accountable for allowing Amber Isaac’s death, at a rally on May 5, 2020.
Friends, family and advocates call for Montifore Medical Center to be held accountable for allowing Amber Isaac’s death, at a rally on May 5, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Among them was climate czar Daniel Zarrilli, charged with annual progress reports to OneNYC 2050, de Blasio’s sprawling, nine-volume climate change response program, heralded by the mayor at its 2019 announcement as “New York City’s Green New Deal.”

The effort promised to track 80 metrics of progress — but Zarrilli said these updates would have to wait.

“Even amid this ongoing health crisis, we can’t lose sight of our looming climate crisis or addressing any other threats to our city,” Zarrilli wrote to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in April, cc’ing de Blasio.

“However, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic still in a period of crisis mitigation and widespread community transmission, it is advisable to wait to publish the 2020 progress report until we can fully review our OneNYC implementation efforts in the context of the City’s recovery process to ensure there is alignment between the two.”

He asked for an extension until July, which Johnson granted. But as of Wednesday, the progress report had yet to be published.

“Since the impacts of the health crisis continue to be felt and the resulting economic crisis is still emerging, we are anticipating the update to be released soon,” another de Blasio spokesperson, Julia Arredondo, told THE CITY last month.

The city Health Department also asked for extensions for a host of reports due by the agency this year, including an annual report on maternal mortality and pregnancy complications in the five boroughs.

Murky Maternal Health

Councilmember Helen Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), who sponsored the 2018 bill that mandates the maternal health reports, told THE CITY that the Council granted an extension after it took into consideration the historic strains COVID-19 put on health officials.

“The City Council granted that because — of course,” Rosenthal said of the extension. “They are understaffed, under-resourced and doing God’s work on the pandemic response.”

But Rosenthal, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Women, said the missing report nonetheless sends a signal in a year that has seen several high-profile deaths of young Black women giving birth in city hospitals.

Amber Rose Isaac, 26, died after she gave birth in April at The Bronx’s Montefiore Hospital — and had tweeted ominous complaints about her care. Sha-asia Washington, also 26, died after a C-section at the city-run Woodhull Hospital in July.

Montefiore Medical Center in The Bronx.
Amber Isaac passed away shortly after giving birth at Montefiore Medical Center in The Bronx.
Courtesy of Bruce McIntyre

“We’ve done so many things right, and I’ll give the mayor credit for that,” Rosenthal said. “He got people out of the congregate shelters so that they wouldn’t become COVID hotspots, I give him credit for that. What has he done for Black women giving birth?”

Women’s health advocates have called for state and city officials to share more details on maternal deaths and illnesses — including by race — to keep agencies and hospitals accountable.

“We know that data reporting saves lives and helps ensure improved care,” said Kelly Davis, the National Birth Equity Collaborative’s chief equity officer.

Rosenthal’s legislation requires the Health Department to report detailed statistics maternal mortality and serious pregnancy- and birth-related health complications “on the most recent calendar year … to the extent such data is made available to the department.”

The first report under the law, published on time last year, covers incidents in 2016.

‘Incredibly Important’ Work

The Council measure also encoded in law the health department’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, which is responsible for obtaining, studying and reporting the data.

Davis — who used to work for the city Health Department — noted that collecting such sensitive information from hospitals and other sources is a time-consuming and complex process, involving multiple agencies.

She expects to see an update to the 2016 statistics sometime next year.

“Is it great that data is four years behind? No,” Davis said.

She noted, though, that New York is still well ahead of most other local governments in paying attention.

“This work is incredibly important to the people who lead the maternal health work,” Davis said.

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