Transcribe your podcast

From The New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily. Today, a Times investigation finds that surviving the Corona virus in New York had a lot to do with which hospital a person went to. My colleague, investigative reporter Brian Rosenthal, on inequality and the pandemic. It's Monday, July 27. Thank you for being here today. This is an amazing accomplishment. Strategy. Plan of action all along. Step one, flatten the curve. Step to increase hospital capacity.


That's what this is all about, not overwhelming her hospital capacity and at the same time increasing the hospital capacity that we have. So if it does exceed those numbers, which it will in most probability, that we have the additional capacity to deal with it.


Brian, you have been part of a team investigating how the coronavirus was handled in New York City. And I'm curious why you undertook this project. My sense is that New York has done a fairly solid job flattening the curve over the past few months. So what was your aim?


So New York was clearly the first big hotspot for the kind of virus in the United States. And yes, we did succeed in flattening the curve, but we also experienced a lot of tragedy along the way. A lot of death and a lot of heartbreak. And now that the rest of the country is going through different. So it is in the virus and different versions of what we went through in Moat's in April. I think it's really important to look at the experience in New York, the successes that we've had, but also the mistakes that were made.


And if you look at what happened in hospitals in New York. In a real close way, you'll see that there were a lot of mistakes. And as a result, people died. And where does that story start in your reporting?


When the pandemic began in New York, a team of us on the metro desk really were trying to follow what was happening. And we realized very quickly that there was no one stoy about how this was playing out in hospitals, because there are forty seven different hospitals in New York City and each one was having its own experience. So a team of us divided them. Some of us took the public hospitals. Some of us took more the private hospitals. And we started calling doctors, nurses, physician assistants, all kinds of workers in each of those hospitals and burn.


Why does that distinction matter? Public and private?


Well, the public hospitals of the hospitals that are run by the government and they Kaito mostly to residents who have Medicaid or Medicare or don't have any insurance at all. And the private hospitals are kind of the more elite institutions that we might be familiar with. Mt. Sinai, NYU Langone, Columbia, Cornell. And they Kaito mostly to wealthier residents with health insurance through their employer or puts this privately.


And after you talk to doctors and nurses and staff from all these different hospitals, both the public and the private.


What did you learn?


We found significant differences between the level of care available at these wealthy private hospitals, mostly in Manhattan and the public hospitals and small independent hospitals scattered throughout the other birds. There were differences in basically everything. Once you walk in the door. But the biggest differences were in staffing the level of nurses and doctors and other types of staff that were available on a per patient basis, as well as the equipment that was available. The age of the equipment, the type of the equipment and access to drug trials and experimental treatments and advanced treatments that cost a lot of money and may not necessarily always work, but give the patients a fighting chance.


Those are available much more in the private hospitals than the public hospitals.


Tell me about the staffing ratios. Yeah, so the staffing ratio is very important in whether patients live or die. Research has shown that and there are some best practices that have been established through the use of.


If you look at an emergency room, for example, the best practice is that there is to be four patients for every one notice. So that way the notice is not having too many patients that they are trying to monitor. And we were able to collect numbers showing the ratios in emergency rooms at private hospitals versus public hospitals. And you can see that the ratio has increased at every hospital. But at the private hospitals law, the ratio went up to one nurse for six or seven patients.


It went up at the public hospitals to one nurse for ten or fifteen or even 20 patients.


So about twice. Yeah. And in the ICU use the general ratio is because the patients are so severe. It's two patients for every notice. And again, those ratios got stretched at every hospital in the city, but in private hospitals, it would be stretched to three or four patients for every notice. And in the public hospitals, it was getting stretched to seven, eight, nine patients for every nurse, which was obviously they dangerous. And what did the staff you talked to say were the consequences in some of these public hospitals?


What did that translate into during the pandemic?


It meant that doctors and nurses have less time to spend with each patient in public hospitals to see how they were doing. To talk with them, to run tests and perhaps most importantly, just to monitor them, almost all of them. One, ventilators and really needed to be constantly monitored. One of the things that we've learned with the Corona virus is that patients can do to it very quickly. They can seem like they were doing fine one minute and the next minute they could be going into cardiac arrest and at the understaffed public hospitals.


We even heard some cases of patients waking up from medically induced coma is finding that there were no nurses around and in the confusion, actually removing their life supports and dying. Wow. It was something that was a pattern, somewhat of a pattern that at Elmhurst Hospital, that overwhelmed hospital that received a lot of attention. This happens so often with somebody woke up confused and remove their life support because they needed to go to the bathroom and they collapsed and they were discovered either in the bathroom or near the bathroom.


Some of the doctors there actually developed a name for it. They called them bathroom codes. And in those cases, the patients were discovered, you know, half an hour later, forty five minutes later, by doctors and nurses who were devastated because if there had been staff, they were monitoring them. They would have been killed for. But instead, a nurse was doing the rounds for 15 or 20 other patients. That's right. And every case that we heard about, at least four cases that almost hospital, the patients died.


How else to the people you talk to in these hospitals tell you that staffing impacted mortality? Well, another example is something called Ploning, which is quite simply flipping a patient on their stomach. And it was something that very quickly during the pandemic, doctors realized that. If they did, if they flip patients on their stomach, it would help the patient breathe and could be a useful tool in helping them recover. And so that was something that was used a lot in New York, in private hospitals, but unfortunately, in public hospitals, there was not the staffing available to do it.


Why? Well, it turns out that pruning is flipping someone on their stomach can actually be quite complicated if they have a bunch of I.V. lines and tubes running through them. And it can require five or six people to coordinate all the movements and make sure those lines are still running while flipping the patient. So it seems very simple. And the doctors knew that it would help. But in some of those public hospitals, they were not able to do it because they did not have the staff available.


One doctor at a small independent hospital told us that out of 10 of the deaths that he witnessed, he thought two or three of the patients could have been saved if there had been better staffing. Yeah, if the hospital had the resources of a private hospital. Wow. That's 20 to 30 percent. Yeah, I mean, it translates to thousands of people. And we actually looked at the mortality rates at most of the 47 hospitals in the city.


And in some cases, the mortality rate was three times higher in the public hospitals, in the low income areas. Mm hmm. Some of that mortality difference could be explained by differences in patient populations, you know, underlying health conditions of the patients. But the experts and the doctors that we talked to said that the quality of care was definitely a factor in those differences.


And as horrible as everything you're describing is, it feels like there's a pretty logical solution to it, which is taking covered 19 patients from these overburdened, understaffed public hospitals and transferring them to the less burdened, better staffed private hospitals.


You'd think that. Yes. And Governor Cuomo even said at the peak of the pandemic set that was going to happen.


How many beds will you need at the apex? Between 70 and 110000. Right now we have fifty three thousand statewide. We have only 36000 downstate. Every hospital by mandate has to add a 50 percent increase. And they have all done that.


We're setting up extra facilities which but in the end, it did it and went on like what prevents a patient at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens from being transferred to NYU Langone, which happens to be on the east side of Manhattan. It's not that far. Well, Elmhurst is a public hospital, and for decades they have not really transferred patients to NYU Langone. They've transferred patients to other hospitals within the public system. But they just don't really work together with the private system.


So there's no infrastructure set up to make such transfers and therefore they're unlikely to happen.


Well, nothing physically prevents a patient from being transferred. But. First of all, at the hospital, Elmos may not want to transfer the patient because there is revenue attached to every patient. Even a public hospital care is about maximizing its revenue. So the doctor in the notice inside the hospital may want very much to transfer a patient to London. But the administrator, the CEO of the hospital, might not want to do that for financial reasons. So there was a problem on that end.


And then there's a problem on the other end, because NYU Langone is a private hospital and it wants to treat patients with private health insurance because that's going to bring the biggest profit. And the patient coming from Elmhurst, the public hospital, is going to be a patient without private health insurance. So it's not a patient that NYU Langone really wants anyway. So on both ends, Elmhurst may not want to transfer the patient and NYU won't go might not want to take the patient.


So the incentives are not there for this very simple fix to work. That's right, because the incentive is profit.


So at the end of the day, were there any transfers between the public and private hospitals and a meaningful number of transfers?


There were less than 50. Wow. Doing the whole course of the pandemic, thousands of people in hospitals, there were less than 50 transfers from public hospitals to private hospitals. That is a genuinely shocking number. Yeah. And again, the transfers were wanted by the doctors and the nurses. But they didn't end up happening. I'm very rarely shocked. Here. So that brings us to the other possible solution, where it's New York explored and actually put a lot of money into, which was the overflow hospitals, makeshift hospital set up around the city that could take patients from these overburdened hospitals.


But it turns out those didn't work either.


All the way back. atWork is the world's largest network of proven remote talent devs, UI designers, writers, strategists, you name it, whatever skills your scope demands up work is, how is available, short or long term, one time or as often as you need them. And they're proven, rated and reviewed. Need to find coders outside your area code and SVO specialist for six weeks, or a designer or writer for six months when you need in demand talent on demand.


Upworthy is how.


This is John Aligarh. I'm a national correspondent with the New York Times and I cover issues of race. What I'm trying to do is help people understand how race is lived in America. I'm writing off people whose experiences, whose voices are often pushed aside and ignored because I truly believe that you won't really have all the context you need to understand our country and our world unless you hear from these people and you see what they see and you feel what they feel like.


I do every time I'm out in the field, I want to make sure that we tell the stories of the marginalized, of the oppressed with the same respect and dignity that we tell the story of politicians, business people and other people in power. And if this kind of work is important to, then I would ask you to support us by subscribing to The New York Times. You can do that at NY Times. Dot com slash subscribe. Now, as we all know, New York is the national epicenter of the Corona virus crisis.


Now it is all hands on deck there.


And the death toll in New York City from the Cauvin 19 pandemic has climbed to 450, with twenty six thousand testing positive so far. This is the naval ship Comfort due to arrive in the area on Monday from Virginia in a field hospital.


I remember these overflow hospitals really well.


What we're doing here at the Javits Center is constructing for emergency hospitals.


I remember Governor Cuomo walking through the Javits Center.


This huge convention center was never an anticipated use. But you do what you have to do. That's the New York way.


That's the American way on the west side of Manhattan, kind of showing off the hundreds of beds. I remember being little flowers on the sides of the tables next to the courts.


And I know these were set up in each burrow. So what happened? That meant that they didn't actually do their job?


Well, let's take the example of the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, part of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center right now is being converted into a temporary hospitals.


It's one of the biggest tennis centers in the world. It's where the U.S. Open is held.


Some patients from nearby Elmhurst hospital are expected to be transferred to the National Tennis Center Hospital.


It was going to have four hundred and seventy beds and hundreds of employees that were going to be available to take patients specifically from Elmhurst and Queens.


This place will be a lifesaving place. It's going to help take the pressure off Alberto.


It was supposed to be a Crucell facility, but the first problem that it had was bureaucracy. There were paperwork requirements. There were all kinds of orientations that the doctors needed to do training on the computer systems, training on the type of equipment that was going to be there and the paperwork that had to be filled out. And you had doctors in the middle of the peak of the pandemic when people were dying, spending time doing things that had nothing to do with patient care.


Another problem was that the hospital was suffering from a bit of an identity crisis about which types of patients it was going to treat and at different points of time, even within the week that it was being set up.


As of this morning, the complex was not likely to include cover 19 patients.


The U.S. Open is city officials who are changing their mind about that question.


This facility will be able to take people from Elmhurst, other Corona coronavirus patients, bring them over here, relieve some of that pressure immediately.


And they were conveying different directives to other hospitals about which types of patients they should be transferring to the Billie Jean King Tennis Center. And they ended up crafting a series of rules that were very restrictive about the types of patients that could go to Billie Jean King. There would over twenty five different exclusionary criteria, which is basically disqualifying conditions that if the patient has, they can't go to Billie Jean King. And one of them was just the fact of the patient had a fever, which is a hallmark symptom of the coronavirus.


But at the same time, there were also a series of rules about the types of patients that they would not see because they were not severe enough. They were patients that were quarantining with the virus in hotels and in some cases ended up dying in those hotels. And when employees at Billie Jean King asked why they couldn't see and care for those patients, they were told that those patients aren't severe enough to be a Billie Jean King. So they of see the really severe patients.


They also can see the patients that were not severe. And as a result, they didn't end up treating much of anybody. Mm hmm. So did they see any patients? Well, hold on, because there's another problem and it relates to ambulances. So in the peak of the pandemic, if you were at your house and you called nine one one, the ambulance that arrived could not take you to Billie Jean King directly. Well, the city had decided that ambulances would have to first take patients to a hospital even if they're overburdened.


And that hospital would treat the patient and then figure out where to send them. So Billie Jean King was really only taking transfers from other hospitals, but even the transferring process was blocked by ambulance regulations because they were. Swainson's way or hospital is wanted to transfer patients, but there was no ambulance available to transfer them. And Billie Jean King had its own ambulances onsite. They could have gone to the hospital and picked up the patient. But the regular hospital has had exclusivity agreements with ambulance companies that said that nobody could pick up their patients.


They could only send patients out in their own ambulances with these companies.


And so that patients just going to stay at Elmhurst and not get transferred to bill jinking until an ambulance from that company with exclusive agreement is available.


Yes. And that happened. So patients had to wait. OK, so back to that question. In the end, how many patients made it into this Billie Jean King Overflow Hospital? Seventy nine. She's 79. Throughout the course of the month that the Billie Jean King Center was open at any one time, there were maybe 20 or 30 patients there.


So what were all the staff, the nurses, the doctors at? Billie Jean King Field Hospital, Overflow Hospital. What were they doing?


Well, in many cases, nothing. You know, I want to be clear, because the doctors and nurses and other staffers that came to work, Billie Jean King, they came in many cases from around the country. They will experience medical professionals and they really wanted to help. And they were extremely well paid as well. They were paid. The doctors in many cases, over six hundred dollars an hour. Wow. So they showed up to work, ready to help, eager to help.


But no patients came in the door. So I talked to some of them that said that in the peak of the pandemic, they were sitting around on their phone all day. One of the workers, Billie Jean King, who I talked with, who is a nurse practitioner who came up from Baltimore. She said, I basically got paid two thousand dollars a day to sit on my phone and look at Facebook. We all felt guilty. I felt really ashamed, to be honest, because, like you said, they came to serve the public in New York, in particular, a public that was trying to get into overburdened public hospitals.


And here they are not able to do that because of exclusive ambulance agreements and the kind of bureaucratic nonsense.


That's right. Yeah. The facility ended up closing in early May after the peak of the pandemic. There was really no need for it. And ultimately, would it work in treating seventy nine patients? So far, the city has paid the contractor about fifty two million dollars. But the bill is actually still coming in at the total bill might actually be over a hundred million dollars. And whenever we talk about inequality, it can feel like a very out of reach set of solutions, right?


Because almost by definition, it is systemic, deeply rooted issues. But in the case of hospitals in New York, the solutions fell very practical and very simple as you have laid them out. You know, cancel those exclusive ambulance agreements. Transfer patients from public to private hospitals. They all seem quite within reach.


Yeah. I think that's right. And I think it's also important to note that even while the pandemic was going on, there were plenty of doctors and other hospital workers who noticed these inequalities and were trying to fix them. We talked with a number of doctors that actually rotated between working in the private hospitals and working in the public hospitals and were trying to raise alarms and even hospitals within the private networks trying to push their bosses to do more to address inequalities.


But the reality was by that point, the inequalities were so ingrained into the hospital system that there wasn't a whole lot that they could do.


I think the story of what happened in hospitals in New York in the height of the kind of virus pandemic is really a story about officials and hospital executives and bureaucrats who accepted these inequalities in the system long ago and have obviously known about inequalities for decades, but chose not to address them and found that they got exposed in this pandemic.


But of course, in that case, isn't it the role of government? Isn't it the role of the mayor of New York City, the governor of New York, to not accept those kinds of inequalities and to do everything in their power to slice through that kind of complacency in the midst of a public health crisis? Yeah, and I think if you talked to the governor or the mayor, if you had them sitting here, they would say that they did as much as they could.


And they did certainly spend a lot of money setting up field hospitals to help and set up a system to help with transfers. But one thing that I think is very telling is when I called the governor's office to ask why more patients were not transferred from overburdened hospitals to private hospitals that had open beds. The governor's office said that they accommodated every transfer that was requested by the hospitals and they felt like that was their job. So they handled each request, but they were not willing to force hospitals to transfer.


They were not willing to take that more fundamental step in changing the government's role. And I think it's because they themselves. Kind of accepted the reality as it was that they were going to be inequalities between different types of hospitals and different types of patients.


Right. To say that they processed every request they got for a transfer is to say, like, I caught a couple of the raindrops in this giant storm, but. What about that flood down the street? Right, it's not addressing. The more fundamental Kabul. At the start of our conversation, you mentioned that PPI cost realisations are now occurring throughout much of the rest of the country.


It subsided in New York, but it's now happening in Texas.


It's happening in Florida. It's happening in Arizona.


Yes, I know that your investigation was into the hospitals in New York, but do we expect that what you saw in New York, these inequities, these private public hospital disparities, that they are likely to play out across the rest of the country?


They will definitely be disparities in every city in America. I think the question is whether other cities have learned from New York and are going to be willing to put in place systems and policies that can help balance out those inequalities in a more real way than we saw in New York. And I think that's still to be determined.


Brian, thank you very much. We appreciate it. Thank you. On Sunday, the Times reported that the total number of infections in Florida has now surpassed that of New York, making the state the new epicenter of the pandemic. Florida has nearly 400 and 24000 reported cases, compared with about four hundred and fifteen thousand cases in New York. We'll be right back. Vanguard was founded on the simple but radical idea that an investment company can succeed because it puts investors first.


Vanguard is client owned. You own their funds and the funds own Vanguard, which means Vanguard is built to ensure that your interests will be the priority together. Vanguard's 30 million investors are changing the way the world invests. Visit Vanguard ARCOM or talk to your financial advisor to learn more. Here's what else you need to know, day. The Times reports that the presence of federal agents in Portland galvanized thousands of people to join protests across the country over the weekend, reviving nationwide protests that had largely dissipated.


One of the most intense protests was in Seattle, where a demonstration against police brutality turned violent after some protesters led a detention center on fire. Smashed windows and damaged a police building.


In response, police declared the protest a riot, fired flash grenades, unleashed pepper spray and rushed into crowds, knocking people to the ground.


That's it for the day. I'm Michael Mobile. See you tomorrow. Do you avoid tough problems and shy away from a debate? Do you think uncertainty limits potential? Neither do we at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. We believe in asking questions and questioning answers. With campuses in Chicago, London and Hong Kong, the booth MBA is for people who see challenges as opportunities and want the skills to make positive change in any markets anywhere in the world.


Ready to find your community? Search Chicago. Boost at 80 you today to learn more.