Years of hospital closures make New York City vulnerable to another COVID-19 wave, some say

Some experts question whether New York City hospitals have the capacity to handle another possible COVID-19 wave after cutting about 20,000 beds over the last two decades, according to local news source the Gothamist.

Specifically, the Queens borough of New York City has 1.5 beds per 1,000 people, compared to 6.4 per 1,000 in Manhattan. The statistic showed up on signs during an Aug. 14 demonstration calling for a restoration of hospital bed capacity in the borough.

"The hospital beds are maldistributed," Lois Uttley, program director of the Women's Health Program at nonprofit Community Catalyst, said at a joint hearing held by the state Senate and Assembly. Ms. Uttley said there are too many beds in the Upper East Side, while other areas don't have enough. She urged the state health department to conduct a thorough geographic analysis of bed capacity and use that to guide future decisions.

Jim Malatras, PhD, president of Saratoga Springs-based SUNY Empire State College, who has been advising Gov. Andrew Cuomo amid the pandemic, said he didn't think the state had cut too many beds. State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, MD, said it wasn't just bed capacity that mattered, but also coordination between hospitals.

The loss of hospital beds in New York can be attributed to multiple healthcare trends, but is also by design, the Gothamist reports. The Berger Commission recommended that hospitals losing money either shut down or merge with larger hospital networks.

"There has to be some commitment from the state to make sure we stabilize safety-net institutions," state Sen. Gustavo Rivera said. "They were in crisis before the crisis."

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