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Queens Candidates’ Life or Death Call for More Trauma Care

Ambulance Photo: blurAZ/Shutterstock

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This article was produced in partnership with The Trace.

Candidates for Queens borough president are pledging to improve access to trauma centers after a data story published by The Trace, THE CITY and Measure of America showed that the borough faces higher gunshot mortality rates than the rest of the city.

The analysis, which includes more than 12,000 shootings recorded by the NYPD between January 2010 and October 2018, revealed that gunshot victims in southern Queens have a death rate 14% higher than the citywide average.

Councilmember Costa Constantinides
Councilmember Costa Constantinides
William Alatriste/New York City Council

Residents living south of Hillside Avenue face more than a three-mile trip to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, the nearest Level I trauma center. The fatality rate for incidents that occurred more than three miles away from a trauma center was 27% higher than that for shootings that occurred within a one-mile drive.

“That a shooting victim might have to travel more than three miles to a hospital, when every single second matters, is unconscionable,” said Councilmember Costa Constantinides, who is running for borough president and whose district covers northwest Queens.

“There are long-term solutions to getting guns out of hands. But in the short term, we must get a trauma center in southeast Queens, where residents need the care right now.”

Candidates in Agreement

In a series of interviews conducted by THE CITY since the original story’s publication, the five other announced borough president candidates agreed, and promised to address the disparity in hospital access.

Councilmember Donovan Richards
Councilmember Donovan Richards
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“We are growing and yet our institutions aren’t growing as they should. We need our hospitals to be expanded at this point and advocacy is going to be key moving forward,” said Councilmember Donovan Richards, who represents parts of Southeast Queens. “We will put our money where our mouths are.”

The candidates also said they’d work with city and state elected officials to direct funding and other resources to address the root causes of gun violence.

“We have a gun violence epidemic in our country and must advocate for the safety and health of our residents, especially in southern Queens,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, whose district covers parts of Western Queens. “We need smarter gun control to prevent senseless violence.”

Jimmy Van Bramer
Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Melinda Katz, Queens borough president and the Democratic nominee for Queens District Attorney, held a news conference on Tuesday to call for an “expansion of efforts to address gun violence as a public health crisis.”

“I’ve pushed for larger funding to the hospitals that deal with trauma-related gun shot victims so that they can be at the same level as all the hospitals across New York City,” Katz said at the conference. “But the real key is keeping [guns] out of people’s hands in the first place.”

Katz and other politicians in the borough said they will forge partnerships with Cure Violence and other community organizations to combat the spike in Queens shootings this year.

“Community-based organizations are often our first responders when something happens in a neighborhood,” Constantinides said. “They should have as many tools in their toolbox to mediate a tense situation without having to call the police every time.”

Dire Financial Diagnosis

But while politicians focus on reducing gun crime, Jamaica Hospital — which houses the lone trauma center in southern Queens — is struggling to serve victims in need. Financial documents, audits, and state reports reviewed by The Trace and THE CITY revealed a dire financial diagnosis for the hospital, which was in the red for 12 of the 13 years between 2005 and 2017.

The hospital ended 2017 more than $66 million in debt, according to IRS filings and an independent audit. And the federal agency responsible for overseeing hospitals has issued the facility at least 48 violations since 2012.

Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman
State Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman
New York State Assembly

Administrators at Jamaica Hospital “feel that with the amount of patients that come through their doors every day, they just don’t have the capacity,” said Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman, whose district covers Southeast Queens. “There’s a great need in that hospital for resources. They come to Albany every year to ask for money.”

Representatives from Jamaica Hospital declined to be interviewed about the analysis. But former employees said that financial constraints had hamstrung the hospital’s capacity to provide adequate care. As of today, it remains on a “watch list” published by The Greater New York Hospital Association of facilities at risk of closure.

So far, no New York official has announced plans to try to shore up the finances of the facility, or to allocate funds for a new hospital in the area.

Richards called that an act of neglect: “If we’re not building new hospitals and not building new trauma units, we are endangering the lives of everyday New Yorkers who may end up in a traumatic situation.”

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