An Unhealthy Division

Located in the Upper East Side of New York City, Mount Sinai Hospital is enormous. It’s as pristine as a hospital can be: the walls are white, everything smells of rubbing alcohol and nothing ever seems out of place. The rooms are spacious, the floor is clean and the staff is always friendly and welcoming. The hospital offers a wide array of medical professionals fluent in Spanish, which allows them to serve the neighboring East Harlem. Mount Sinai is lauded as one of the oldest teaching hospitals in the United States with the second best geriatrics department in the nation.

It’s a completely different story, however, at the Albert Einstein Montefiore Hospital in the South Bronx.

Often hailed as the birthplace of hip hop, the South Bronx is predominantly comprised of people of color – according to the Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems in New York City, the South Bronx was 60 percent Latino and 39 percent African-American in 2009, and these numbers have only increased over recent years. Most families in the neighborhood are working or lower-middle class families, and the majority of its population has only a high school diploma and vocational education.

And Montefiore is no Mount Sinai. When I visited, I saw that the staff at Montefiore was overworked, making it challenging to get anyone’s attention. The rooms were small, the cafeteria was dirty and there always seemed to be a lingering smell of overcooked green beans in the air. On top of this, it was extremely difficult to find a healthcare professional that spoke Spanish. In a community like the Bronx where nearly half of all residents speak Spanish, I could not believe that I encountered almost no professionals who could speak the language.

For my own family, Mount Sinai was the hospital of our choice. Even when my great-grandmother moved to the Bronx and was left severely disabled by her diabetes, we still went to Mount Sinai: my grandmother would call days in advance to schedule a form of transport. The whole ordeal would take an entire day, but we felt the excellent care they provided justified the wait. When my great-grandmother had a stroke, however, she was rushed to a hospital closer to home: Montefiore.

While my family was extremely fortunate in our ability to choose Mount Sinai, many other people of color are often unable to easily access hospitals and sufficient care. Hospitals in communities of color have been experiencing financial crisis and many are closing down. This past year, Mount Sinai participated in a merger with St. Luke’s hospital in Harlem, which resulted in the closure of its only pediatric unit. There is a trend across the nation: working class communities of color find it increasingly difficult to access hospitals, and those they do have access to are often characterized by subpar facilities and care. It’s time that we recognize this trend and do something about it. The legacy of housing segregation can be felt to this day, and local healthcare is one of its most prevalent manifestations.