A once-in-a-century pathogen overwhelmed
New York medical centers this spring and at least part of the blame lies
in decisions state and health care leaders made to eliminate 20,000
hospital beds over the past two decades.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned New York could need
between 55,000 and 110,000 hospital beds to treat COVID-19 patients
through the end of April. But the Empire State only had 53,000 licensed
hospital beds to begin with, down from the 73,931 that existed in 2000.
The surge in patients has overloaded both the city’s pricey academic medical centers and its deficit-ridden
public hospital system. By the end of April, 41,316 New Yorkers would
seek treatment for coronavirus symptoms at a hospital and 17,589
residents died from the disease. At the apex of the pandemic, which occurred around April 12, hospitals contained close to 19,000 COVID patients.
Hospitalizations have declined since
then but Cuomo acknowledged the state must be better prepared for the
future. The health care system’s ability to protect the public would be
imperiled if 70 percent of hospital beds were occupied, he said.
“Governors don’t do global pandemics,”
Cuomo said in a briefing on April 28. “It’s not a state responsibility
in this system who was supposed to blow the bugle and didn’t. I would
bank on this happening again.”
The governor may be right that another
wave of illness will strike this fall but the state’s lack of
preparedness was due to decades of deregulation, systemic racism, and
political apathy that led to dozens of hospital closures across the
“The chickens are coming home to
roost,” Community Service Society Vice President Elisabeth Benjamin told
Commercial Observer. “The people that are suffering and
disproportionately dying are living in communities where all these
hospitals got closed. Hospital capacity there is so woefully
under-resourced it’s an outrage.”