‘The Upper Floors Are the Worst’: Maimonides’ Air Conditioning Failing in Heat Wave

By Reuvain Borchardt

Maimonides Medical Center at 10th Avenue and 49th Street, on the border of Brooklyn’s Boro Park and Sunset Park neighborhoods.

BROOKLYN — An 86-year-old man was transferred from spinal surgery into a hospital room with unbearably high temperatures. A man in his 70’s sweltered for hours in a room that felt like a “steambath.” Delivery rooms are so hot, a doula lamented, that she is considering advising her clients to give birth at other hospitals. 

It’s not cool in Maimonides Medical Center this summer. And the hospital acknowledges it.

“The upper floors are the worst,” a hospital spokesperson told Hamodia. “The extreme heat coupled with very old systems has really stretched the capacity of the air conditioning.”

In a season of crushing heat waves, Maimonides has been going long periods without adequate air conditioning, the latest problem to face the embattled hospital, the patients who seek its care and the staff who provide it.

The air-conditioning issue is enough a problem on some floors and wings that the hospital, according to the spokesperson, “is evaluating options to relocate patients to other areas.”

The average high temperature this July was 87 degrees, two degrees above normal, according to the National Weather Service. This year has already seen 18 days with temperatures in the 90’s.

“The heat in the labor rooms makes it almost impossible for anyone to remain calm and at ease,” said the doula, who often works at Maimonides, and declined have her name published. “Sweating the way our clients are currently is not okay. The nurses [are] constantly complaining as well, but nobody seems to be doing anything about it.”

The man in his 70’s (who also declined to have his name published) who was a patient at Maimonides last month told Hamodia the air conditioning was not working in his room. When his wife went to look for a chair in the hall, she realized that the other part of the hospital wing had working air conditioning. After the couple complained, hospital staff transferred the patient to that other part of the wing, but not before he spent five hours in what he described as a “steambath.”

On Tuesday — as real-feel temperatures reached 103 degrees — the hospital’s subpar air conditioning came to a head: Zvi Gluck, a community activist and director of the Amudim organization, tweeted a selfie video from the sixth floor of Maimonides’ Gelman wing, where he was visiting his 86-year-old father, Rabbi Edgar (Chaim Baruch) Gluck, the long-time community activist.

“I am dripping in sweat because there is no air conditioning here,” Zvi says in the video.

Zvi, who is part of a recently formed organization called “Save Maimonides” that is seeking to force changes at the hospital, told Hamodia on Tuesday that his father had been transferred to the hot room following surgery for spinal stenosis; the other patient in the room had been there since Friday.

When the problem was not fixed, Zvi posted his video to Twitter. 

Zvi told Hamodia that after he posted the video, his father was discharged from the hospital on an expedited basis, with an unusually large number of staff members present ushering them out, which Zvi interpreted as the hospital wishing to get rid of him so as to prevent further negative publicity over the lack of air conditioning.

“I am so happy that I felt well enough to be able to leave the hospital and go home where there is air conditioning,” Rabbi Edgar Gluck told Hamodia. “Staying in the hospital was untenable, and I’m afraid I would not have been able to recover in that heat.”

In a statement to Hamodia, Maimonides Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Antoniades said there are indeed issues with the air conditioning in the hospital. 

“We are aware that, despite a number of preventative measures taken by our facilities team, some patient rooms are experiencing climate control issues due to the current heat wave crippling New York City,” Antoniades said. “Our technicians are working around the clock to ensure we are maintaining temperature levels that are as comfortable as possible throughout hospital facilities. Last summer, in anticipation of heat waves, Maimonides secured industrial mobile chillers to provide supplemental cooling. We have kept these units for the last year while working in parallel to upgrade infrastructure. In addition, the hospital has deployed portable AC units and fans in those areas of the hospital where it is needed to provide added comfort.”

Hamodia reporter showed up outside the hospital on Tuesday, and asked the hospital spokesperson for permission to visit the hospital accompanied by a hospital staffer. But the hospital rebuffed the reporter’s request. The spokesperson said she was “dealing with a crisis” caused by an “internal staff alert” issued that afternoon. The spokesperson did not say whether the alert was precipitated by Gluck’s tweet, but said the alert was “issued to ensure that additional staff were aware of the situation and that it was being addressed.”

The Hamodia reporter then asked to be allowed to visit the hospital unaccompanied, but this request was rebuffed as well, citing privacy concerns.

“Protecting our patients is our number one priority at Maimonides, as is protecting patient privacy,” the spokesperson said. “HIPAA prevents us from permitting members of the media or other unauthorized guests to access patient care areas.”

The reporter asked to be allowed to visit only the hallways and not patient rooms, and to also visit Maimonides’ executive offices (which are in another building) to determine whether the air conditioning was working properly there. These requested visits were rebuffed as well, and Maimonides did not respond to Hamodia’s repeated requests for comment as to the air-conditioning situation in the executive offices, with the spokesperson at one point saying, “I am not sure.”

Maimonides offered to have the reporter meet with the hospital’s facilities team on Wednesday, so that “they might be able to explain the situation and demonstrate the complications.” But the reporter said he would only visit if he were allowed to also see the executive offices and patient floors as well — requests the hospital has not granted.

The doula who spoke with Hamodia said she may tell her clients to use other hospitals.

“I was attending a birth last night, and even the doctor walked in and commented, ‘Why are these rooms so hot?’” she said. “I seriously feel this is coming to a point where we convince our clients to change providers so we can deliver in other hospitals that are more accommodating.”

Councilman Kalman Yeger tweeted that if Maimonides “has to close a floor or wing to deal with [the air-conditioning issue], then that’s what it needs to do. Patient care comes first,” and that if the hospital “is unable to provide air-conditioning for patients, it should divert patients to a nearby hospital. This cannot continue.”

The outcry over the air conditioning comes as Maimonides is facing pressure from the Save Maimonides group, which has run full-page ads in community publications for the past few weeks, alleging poor care at the hospital. In an interview with Hamodia last month, the Save Maimonides chairman alleged that the hospital is understaffed and financially mismanaged, and said the goal of Save Maimonides is to bring in independent auditors and advisory firms to make changes at the hospital. In a separate interview, two top Maimonides officials told Hamodia that as a community medical center with a large number of Medicaid patients, its financial problems are attributable to low reimbursement rates, and the executives are doing their best under these circumstances.

The full interviews with Save Maimonides and Maimonides officials are available here.

Asked in the Hamodia interview last month whether it’s true that there is “a serious problem with air conditioning breaking down this summer in Maimonides,” hospital CEO Ken Gibbs replied, I’m not aware of a serious problem. But it could be that there are instances where the air conditioning hasn’t worked.”

rborchardt@hamodia.com

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