In a community meeting on Saturday, the Interfaith leadership and members of the Bed-Stuy Works Alliance of Block and Tenant Associations, came together to discuss how to repair and strengthen the relationship of the hospital with the surrounding community. The alliance, an organization of about 70 block and tenant associations, have been participating in once-a-month training sessions– conducted by the Bridge Street Development Association and funded by Councilman Al Vann–on how to turn their individual complaints into community-wide agendas for change.
The meeting was the group’s first Town Hall with a troubled institution and District Leader Robert Cornegy reported that “the meeting was not just a griping session”, although many had gripes about the service at Interfaith, but it was “the first time they were able to use the skills learned in a setting of advocacy”.
Interfaith President Hernandez and Chairwoman Diane Porter hosted the meeting and while they did not mention the coming Chapter 11 filing, they were frank in their acknowledgement of the poor perception of Interfaith in the community, and in a telling demonstration of that reputation, a show of hands was asked for to see who used the medical center as their primary care facility, and in a room of more than 65 community leaders, only one hand was raised.
Interfaith has spent millions of dollars on the physical infrastructure of the facility and in many ways offers state-of-the-art services, but lacks the customer service skills necessary to attract potential clients who would rather take their dollars to Methodist Hospital or even into Manhattan. Alliance member Brenda Fryson said it was clear that the alliance members want a full-service hospital, but that one of the overriding issues is the interpersonal relationship between staff and the community. “A lot of the staff is temporary, with no real ties to the community and that’s been a problem.” Mrs. Fryson went on to say that the hospital needs “not just fiscal restructuring, but they need to restructure how they deliver the care”, and that the alliance is willing to work not only on saving the hospital but on increasing the quality of care. To that end, an important outcome of the meeting was the initiation of an advisory board for the hospital and 15 people volunteered to serve on the new board and be a conduit between the hospital and the community. As Mrs. Fryson noted in a later interview, “I’ve always felt that the alliance would be our drum to get the information out to our neighbors and demonstrate that we can make change at the local level using people power”.
There is a high probability that Interfaith (and also Wyckoff Hospital) will have to merge with the Brooklyn Medical Center, and may lose its full-service capacity. It was noted that once you get beyond the goal of saving Interfaith and improving the service, there are other pieces of the health care puzzle that have to be addressed if the hospital is to be maintained as a full-service facility, instead of one restructured to be focused on a narrower range of issues. These other pieces include shoring up existing health centers and medical groups that handle specialized needs well, so that the hospital can handle true emergencies and conditions that need bed space.
We asked Hernandez about the concern raised at the Saturday community meeting of the quality of customer relations and service procedures at Interfaith and what changes does Interfaith intend to implement. The response was, “Unfortunately, there is no money to spare for this”. Regarding how the community can be helpful in ensuring Interfaith stays in the community, he said they should “contact their elected officials, especially Governor Cuomo and share with them the importance of IMC to the people of Central Brooklyn”.
Assemblywoman Annette Robinson has been in close contact with the entire Brooklyn delegation on this issue and will be leading the charge in Albany to get the best possible outcome of this bad situation.