Opinion: Lenox Hill Hospital Expansion Poses Risks to Local Community

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Lenox Hill Hospital

Jim Henderson

Lenox Hill Hospital

For an institution that claims to be dedicated to medical care, Northwell Health seems to care very little for the safety of tens of thousands of residents who live in the communities surrounding its proposed expansion of Lenox Hill Hospital, which is expected to include a massive 490-foot condo tower on Park Avenue and a 520-foot hospital tower on Lexington Avenue.

This previously under-the-radar proposal must receive immediate attention from all of our local and citywide elected officials, who must in turn step up now to oppose Northwell’s dangerous, unnecessary and irresponsible plan. Manhattan Community Board 8 has already indicated that it plans to oppose this project, (its Zoning Committee already rejected it), and that is a positive sign – but we need to hear from our elected officials on this issue, and we need to hear them loud and clear.

The fact is that over the next 10 years, those of us who live in Lenox Hill and nearby neighborhoods can expect constant waves of debris and pollutants to be unleashed by this gargantuan construction project, similar to the dust particles that were found to have been linked to a form of lung cancer during the construction of the Second Avenue subway in 2012 – not to mention the additional noise, traffic and sidewalk hazards. As a result, seniors and children in the area – especially those with existing medical issues such as asthma and other respiratory problems – will be particularly vulnerable to health impacts and will suffer enormously.

Keep in mind that while some outsiders may simply view it as the price of living in New York City, that is simply not the case with an expansion plan as massive and excessive as what Northwell is proposing. This is a $2.5 billion, decade-long construction plan that comes at a time when there is absolutely no need for additional hospital beds on the Upper East Side. Lenox Hill Hospital does need renovation, but let them do so without subjecting the neighborhood to a decade of health hazards.

With regard to the health of local children, it must be pointed out that just blocks from the construction site are numerous schools – PS 6, St. Jean Baptiste, the Hewitt School, the Allen-Stevenson School, Ramaz High School and the Buckley School, among others – whose students, according to medical experts, are most susceptible to the long-term effects of air pollutants.

The American Lung Association has stated that children between the ages of 10 and 18 who grow up in more polluted areas are more likely to face the risk of reduced lung growth and may never fully recover. Manhattan already has one of the highest concentrations of air pollution of anywhere in the city. Exposing children in our community to even more dust and debris could cause lifelong health problems.

Older adults are also particularly vulnerable to air pollution, too. The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a 13-year study on the impact of air pollution on the elderly and found that for every 10 percent increase in tiny particulate matter – the kind produced most often by construction projects – the risk of early death increased by 2 percent. As many of our elected officials already know, nearly 20 percent of Upper East Side residents are aged 65 and older.

Our communities remember the serious health-related problems and disruptions caused by long-term construction on the Second Avenue Subway, including the infamous “Second Avenue Cough,” which Upper East Siders note was a result of the mounting construction and dust particles found in the air while the construction was taking place. We also acknowledge that it resulted in the creation of a crucial piece of public transit infrastructure that served an important public need. As we have noted, no such need exists for additional hospital facilities on the Upper East Side, which already enjoys access to several thousand high-quality hospital beds even as other communities across the city would stand to benefit more from additional healthcare resources.

Simply put, Northwell’s proposed expansion of Lenox Hill Hospital will do far more harm than good for the health and well-being of local residents. For that and so many other reasons, our elected officials must act now to oppose it.

Andy Gaspar and Derek Dillon are Lenox Hill residents and members of the non-profit Committee to Protect Our Lenox Hill Neighborhood, Inc, which opposes Northwell’s $2.5 billion proposal to expand Lenox Hill Hospital and develop two new super-tall towers.

 


Terry Lynam, Sr. VP & Chief Public Relations Officer for Northwell Health, responds:

We thank the Lenox Hill community for their continued feedback on our comprehensive renewal plan. We are still in the very early stages in the planning and approval process and we are committed to open communication and working collaboratively with the Upper East Side and citywide communities as we thoughtfully explore ways to preserve the highest possible standard of care for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers for generations to come.

As Northwell Health’s flagship hospital in Manhattan, Lenox Hill Hospital has delivered world-class clinical care since its founding in 1857 and currently treats more than 163,000 patients annually. We are extraordinarily proud of the hard-working staff and latest medical technology that has earned Lenox Hill Hospital a national reputation for excellence and made it an iconic New York institution. However, the hospital is comprised of 10 separate, aging buildings that are not configured and equipped to effectively deliver the next generation of care.

We will be organizing a series of working groups in the months to come. We look forward to an ongoing dialogue and continuing to work together as our plans progress.

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