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New York City spent $52 million on coronavirus hospital that served 79 patients

New York City spent $52 million on coronavirus hospital that served 79 patients
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A temporary field hospital set up by New York city officials costing at least $52 million treated fewer than 100 patients in total and sat unused even as nearby hospitals were overwhelmed with coronavirus patients, according to a report Tuesday by The New York Times.

The temporary hospital set up at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center treated just 79 patients in the month it was in operation, while staff reported being paid to do nothing all day amid the height of the city's coronavirus outbreak.

“I basically got paid $2,000 a day to sit on my phone and look at Facebook,” Katie Capano, a nurse practitioner from Baltimore who worked at the center, told the Times. “We all felt guilty. I felt really ashamed, to be honest.”

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Red tape and poor communication between city, state and federal officials led to the field hospital as well as the Navy's deployed hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, sitting largely empty while public hospitals in the city reported crowded conditions and overwhelmed staff. Workers at the Billie Jean King facility who spoke to the Times confirmed that they largely spent their time completing repetitive paperwork.

“The conditions in the emergency room during this crisis were unacceptable and dangerous,” Timothy Tan, director of clinical operations at Queens Hospital Center's emergency department, told the Times. “Knowing what our patients had to endure in an overcrowded emergency department, it’s frustrating how few patients were treated at facilities such as Billie Jean King.”

City health officials reportedly refused to allow 911 calls to direct patients to the Billie Jean King hospital, apparently out of dissatisfaction over the facility's preparedness for dealing with patients in critical condition. As a result, the facility only accepted patients that were transferred from other city hospitals. Further complicating the issue, doctors at private hospitals told the Times that they were under the impression that the facility only accepted patients from public hospitals, while a list of at least 25 symptoms could prohibit a patient from being eligible for transfer from a public hospital to Billie Jean King. As a result, few hospitals transferred patients at all.

Meanwhile, workers at the site were reportedly paid at much higher rates than doctors and nurses at city hospitals, even as beds lay empty. The USNS Comfort, dispatched specifically to aid with the city's outbreak response, reportedly refused to accept any COVID-19 patients at all after it first arrived.

Officials with New York City's health department claimed that both public and private hospitals were able to request transfers to Billie Jean King and other temporary facilities, but acknowledged that patients would not be transferred if they met one of the at least 25 conditions barring transfer. 

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“The thing that saved the most lives was to treat them in expanded capacity in the hospitals, and bring staff into the hospitals, and that’s what we were focused on,” said Matt Siegler, a senior vice president with the city's public health system.

“The alternative space was less used than we expected it to be because we broke the curve, thank goodness,” added a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioNYC authorities shut down illegal party with more than 100 people As Trump steps back in the spotlight, will Cuomo exit stage left? NY lawmakers agree to strip Cuomo of pandemic-related emergency powers MORE's (D) office in a statement to the Times.

New York City has confirmed more than 226,000 cases of the disease since the outbreak first began this spring, and has recorded 22,882 deaths from the virus. The city's rate of new infections has largely flattened, with health officials reporting roughly 300 cases per day in recent weeks.