New York City

UPDATE: Coler Caught in Coronavirus Crossfire

Coler Hospital’s caught in a coronavirus crossfire as careless media scrambles after attention, shading lifesaving heroics as the story unfolds.

By David Stone

UPDATE, JULY 18TH, 2020:

In June, a thorough city investigation cleared Coler of allegations drummed up locally, then seized on by sleazy media. But there’s even better news.

A plan for reopenING New York State nursing homes FOR visitors is in place, according to Coler activist and volunteer Judith Berdy.

The rules for patient visits are stringent since nursing homes remain the most vulnerable for spreading the coronavirus.

“Nothing can happen unless the facility has 0 cases in staff or residents of Covid for 28 days straight,” notes Berdy.

Thereafter, strict protocols must be followed. Here’s downloadable PDF, as a reference:

End of Update

Somewhere behind the walls and closed doors at Coler Hospital in isolation on New York’s Roosevelt Island, someone has the facts. They know how many tested positive for Covid-19 tests and who died.

But they’re not talking, and careless news reporting fills the vacuum.

A Coronavirus Crossfire

Self-inflicted wounds…

Resisting skyrocketing healthcare costs, New York underfunded Coler for years. This facility was not alone, but Health & Hospitals, which oversees Coler, shed nursing homes across the city. The property’s been up for sale for years.

Meanwhile, its population nosedived to under 500.

One bad result was preserving a system of open four bed wards, a relic of old times, bad practice abandoned nearly everywhere else.

Shift Change, Coler Hospital
Shift changes at Coler’s main facility see masked personnel driving in and out of parking lots, near empty city buses and community isolation.

Then, the coronavirus swept through New York.

Despite warnings going back to George W. Bush, no one on the federal or state level was ready. Panic followed. Directions changed. Solutions devised on the spot.

But the powerful virus dug in, and after downplaying the threat, Mayor Bill de Blasio joined Governor Andrew Cuomo in scrambling, fighting back. It was all ad hoc, trying this, trying that.

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And Coler, its five-story north end vacant, sat waiting, soon in a coronavirus crossfire. While crisis forced tent hospitals in parks, here was a solid structure, needing only to swing back into action.

Roosevelt Island Medical Center at Coler Sign
Quietly, Coler’s coronavirus response includes a somewhat disguised Roosevelt Island Medical Center. This sign was installed just north of the Octagon, but nowhere is the full name posted.

In the midst of one of his wordy, daily briefings, de Blasio referred to Coler as “empty.” Eager to stir conflict, the press seized on this minor error as evidence of deceit.

But what was the value in undercutting trust in leadership in crisis? Did it really matter if the space was empty or half-empty?

After strong reactions coaxed a course change, de Blasio said the restored north section would house only patients from other hospitals needing space for coronavirus victims.

Then, the news media stepped in, slanting…

Then, that changed too as the City reacted to a rapidly changing scene, inventing the Roosevelt Island Medical Center, an adjacent but separate coronavirus facility on Coler’s grounds.

RIMC uses a separate entrance, formerly a loading dock for bringing in patients.

A newspaper devoted solely to “abuses of power,” ProPublica, accused de Blasio of lying and misleading with conflicting comments. Agility in the face of crisis spun as deceit.

Had anyone at ProPublica any comparable experience?

Six months ago, this lot was empty, but RIMC brought it back to capacity.

At Coler, Unavoidable Sorrow

RIMC Freezer Truck, temporary morgue
A single refrigerated truck acts as temporary morgue behind Coler and RIMC.

While newspapers published uncorroborated claims about shoddy, high risk conditions inside, administrators reacted calmly.

RIMC entrance at Coler with portable electricity
News reports cite a second temporary morgue, but they may have mistaken this mobile electrical generator near the RIMC entrance.

Local residents with ties to Coler and its population kept perspective.

Judith Berdy heads the volunteer auxiliary, noting that Coler’s staff and patients were “like a family.” The losses were hard on everyone.

Perhaps most touching were worries about Open Doors, a collective of poets, writers and other artists that reached deep into the community.

That started three years ago with a slam poetry reading at Gallery RIVAA. These were beautiful men with gripping stories to tell, lives to interpret.

A year ago, they filled the Howe Theatre with FADE, an original play they wrote. Now, at least two were dead, victims of Covid-19.

At Coler, Happier Days Before the Coronavirus Crossfire

In a ridiculous pursuit of conflict, the news media missed one story that seemed impossible to miss.

Flood prevention barriers at Coler.
When reactivating Coler’s north wing in response to the coronavirus crisis, the City installed flood protection barriers around the facility.

As the media inspired coronavirus crossfire swelled, the City moved quickly. Recalling how Super Storm Sandy flooded Coler with rising tides, managers strung flood control barriers all around the facility.

ProPublica never noticed. It was a positive story about rescue and saving, not risking lives.

Who’d click on link bait about that?

6 replies »

  1. Our dumb mayor had an almost empty US navy ship and didn’t send the COVID patients there or to Javitts Center. Now we are endangered by the virus caretakers (nurses, medics, cleaners) riding the red bus from the subway or going to Foodtown and other stores to get food while exposing our residents to their exposure to the virus, as there’s not a food service for them at Coler or a separate bus to take them to and from the tram or subway.

    • That’s not accurate, Raye. The Navy ship came in under state auspices, and the trouble getting anyone on was created by federal guidelines. Until they were lifted, no one with coronavirus could board. de Blasio had nothing to do with it. It was the bureaucracy in Washington.

      Medical workers going to and from Coler are taking all the proper precautions, and non essential workers and the passengers are not supposed to be on board. Red buses and the Q102 are, for all intents, separate buses, and nobody else should be on them. If they are, they’re accept the risks. Those are the rules. As for Foodtown, management has carefully set up cleaning procedures and recommended social distancing to keep everyone as safe as possible.

      In short, treating healthcare workers like pariahs is the wrong way to go. They need our help and support and, for the most part, are getting it.

  2. All I will say is that most people who complain about situations are listening to rumors.

    It is so difficult since the City of New York is not releasing information on the properties they own and operate. These shutdowns claimed to be HIPAA privacy lead to misinformation and rumor.

    I know the staff and many new staff are doing their best to keep Coler safe.

    RIMC, the covid units are COMPLETELY SEPARATE from the nursing home units and have separate staffs.

    At the moment we are advocating for the terraces at the end of most units, be opened so units under quarantine have a place to get fresh air. They have been closed for years for “safety” reasons. it is now time to make them safe and bring in a breath of fresh air, with staff supervision!!!

    We will happily wave to anyone on a terrace.

    • The most significant news, released by HHC yesterday, is that only 73 of Coler’s 540 residents tested positive for coronavirus, so far. That’s far below the statewide average in testing last week for the general population and especially impressive for a nursing home. The staff and administration ought to get a big round of applause and a thank you for the lives they have saved. Considering that the virus was around in January, before anyone knew and before quarantining, the low count speaks highly of how Coler’s handled its responsibility.

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