Monday, December 03, 2007


As the Presidential candidates all present health care proposals, in West Harlem residents just want their local health center to open...after more than five years of being shut down.

The Manhattanville Health Center was closed the authorities said for some needed renovations.

Well, despite the availability of funds, Manhattanville Health Center has not been rehabilitated. Programs originally on site have dispersed with no guarantee of their return.

Local politicians say its no big deal as patient visits had declined over the years. Could be the reasons were cuts in services provided and managed Medicaid. The latter assigns Medicaid patients to a particular provider and does not allow them to go elsewhere. Since many patients never receive or don't understand notices asking them to choose an MD, they are assigned one and never know it.

Falling patient visits certainly weren't caused by a lack of need. The death rate in the area is 40 percent higher than in the city as a whole, and the poverty rate is 50 percent higher. Twenty-four percent of Harlem residents do not have a primary source of health care and 11 percent use the ER for emergencies. HIV deaths are more than double the rate in NYC; cancer is the leading cause of premature death. Rates of cancer, asthma, diabetes and heart disease are higher than anywhere else. These are NYC Dept of Health statistics.

But city officials say no problem.

And, of course, if you've been reading the OD lately you know that Colombia University has a plan to deal with this anyway. That would be there expansion plan which would simply exile 5000 or more people from the community. No people means no sick people. A novel idea, I'd say.

Did I mention that the renovations which were to have taken place were themselves the result of community action.

Residents in the area are back in the streets trying to get their health center back. They shouldn't have to be doing this. It doesn't take any brains to see the need.

At a speech in Harlem late last month Barack Obama touched on many issues central to his campaign, including closing the achievement gap in education and health care reform. “We will have health care for every American by the end of my first term as President of the United States.”

He didn't mention the Manhattanville Health Center.

My guess is he's never heard of it.

And there is part of the problem.

The following is from the Columbia Spectator.

Residents Call for Reopening of Health Center
By Melissa Repko

Led by Sunday-school students carrying brightly-colored banners, approximately 30 people marched from St. Mary’s Church to the Manhattanville Health Center to protest it being closed for the last four years.

The protest, which urged the center to reopen, tied together what protesters perceive as Columbia’s disregard for the neighborhood with its expansion plans and the general disregard for the public health of the area. It included many community activists who oppose the way the University plans to expand into Manhattanville, but centered around the need for improved public health in Harlem.

The Manhattanville Health Center, a city-run clinic, was originally closed for renovations four years ago, but was never reopened because of decisions made by the mayor and the Department of Health. Though the portico was redone to look more modern, no one has used the building since renovations began.

The protesters were a mixture of students, neighborhood residents, and churchgoers. Several members of the Columbia group Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification—including former hunger striker Samantha Barron, BC ’10—were in attendance.

Before heading out into the cold, Jim White, mental health advocate and Sunday-school teacher, joked with people gathering in the church’s basement. “We lovingly call it St. Mary’s the Militant,” he said, noting the church’s long history of speaking out and fighting for change.

Tom DeMott, CC ’80, of the Coalition to Preserve Community, spoke of the need for clinics in the area, particularly because disease rates are much higher than in other parts of Manhattan. He said the health and facilities committee of the West Harlem Local Development Corporation, a group formed to negotiate a community benefits agreement with Columbia, came up with very strong demands to address public health concerns. Yet, he recently resigned from the LDC citing backdoor political decisions and said that among other ideas, committee demands related to health were “facing a heavy dilution process.”

The relatively small group made noise and handed out fliers about both the health center and Columbia’s 197-c plan to rezone the area to build a campus. Many in the area smiled or joined into the chants as the protesters walked by. At one point, two people cheered out of an apartment building window.

Most of the commentary focused on promoting public health for the working poor by eliminating racism. “There’s a tremendous amount of racism in the way Harlem residents’ lives are disregarded,” said Dr. Ellen Isaacs, who lives in the area.

Isaacs explained that many blame the sick poor for not taking care of themselves without considering the great expense of healthier foods and gym memberships. “There’s a lot of writing about our lifestyle, what we eat, and how much we exercise.... There is an extreme amount of social, institutionalized racism,” she said, adding that Columbia should use its medical knowledge to reach out to the nearby community rather than researching diseases like the West Nile virus.

Reverend Earl Kooperkamp of St. Mary’s church said he was frustrated by the building being closed and that it should be full of needy patients, not locked up and full of boxes. “The only thing there is a security guard to keep the door locked 24 hours a day,” he said.

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