Back in March, the biggest fear that St. Barnabas hospital in the Bronx had was not having enough beds to treat COVID19 patients. BronxCare Health System, meanwhile, part of the Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center, worried about not having enough Intensive Care Units, and enough staff to take care of what was coming.
What these hospitals did not know at that time was that someone had their backs.
Tomas Ramos, a young politician running for congress in the Bronx District 15, a community of mainly Latino and African Americans, knew the needs of the two hospitals and other medical centers in the Bronx as they faced a potential flood of COVID19 patients. So, he put together an organization, called the Bronx Rising Initiative, to connect hospitals in need with donors who wanted to contribute resources, to ease the process of preparing for the crisis.
Ramos became a bridge connecting the private donors to the clinics and hospitals. At the beginning of March, he started contacting all hospitals in the Bronx and asking what they needed. Then he began to contact financial companies that he had connections with.
Two weeks later, a Wall Street financial company that wants to remain anonymous donated more than three million dollars, divided between BronxCare Health System and St. Barnabas. A representative of this company, who asked to be identified only as a male in his fifties, said, “We were not looking for publicity, but were looking for ways to help different communities in New York and some parts of New Jersey.”
The representative said his company began worrying about how the pandemic was going to affect New York when employees were watching what was occurring in Italy, back in February. According to the representative, the company was not able to connect to hospitals, so its representative reached out to Ramos. The company wanted to make sure their donations went to the community that needed it the most. “It is difficult for these hospitals to obtain equipment beforehand because of their credit,” said the representative.
What the company values the most about the Bronx Rising Initiative, he said, is its mission. “Tomas is working for a community that really needs it, and my company would love to continue donating, because we carry the same values.”
With the donations made in March, St Barnabas and Bronx Care Center were able to acquire more beds and increase ICU capacity. They also used some of the donated money to help increase full-time staff. On March 17, St. Barnabas received a $1,130,000 donation out of the $3,014,000 donation from the financial company to prepare for the crisis, as well as 10,000 N95 breathing masks to help protect employees.
According to Steven Clark, the Director of Marketing and Communications at St. Barnabas Hospital, who has worked for the hospital for 11 years, Ramos’s phone call came at the right moment. “Mr. Ramos contacted us when the pandemic started and we knew we needed more beds,” said Clark. “We were able to retool our facility and make more beds available to patients,” he said.
In three weeks, the hospital renovated office space that was not in use and turned the space into ICU areas. The funds also allowed the hospital to assign more than a dozen medical employees to this new space.
“We seem to be a little less overwhelmed,” said Clark, “and things have become more manageable.”
Currently, St. Barnabas is seeing more than 200 COVID19 patients, which includes some with positive tests and others waiting for results.
The second part of the big donation via the Bronx Rising Initiative went to BronxCare Health System part of the Bronx Lebanon Hospital, on March 20th, for $1,714,000. “I knew that Bronx Lebanon needed support because I have been a patient there,” said Ramos. He remembered waiting for five hours in an overcrowded emergency room, to be seen for a head injury .
With this donation, the hospital doubled its ICU bed capacity and was able to schedule more nurses and specialists to work full time during the crisis.
As of today, the Bronx is the borough with the highest rate of COVID 19 cases per 100,000 people, according to New York City data. As of April 19, it had reported 1,962 deaths, third highest of the city’s five boroughs.
People in this borough have been affected for different reasons: Hypertension, asthma, and diabetes are among the diseases that make coronavirus more deadly, and the Bronx has a high percentage of people with these diagnoses. According to New York Health Department reports, Bronx residents have the highest prevalence of diabetes. 16% of Bronx residents have diabetes.
In addition, for more than a month now, Ramos and his Bronx Rising Initiative has been able to obtain thousands of N95 masks, hand sanitizers, and gowns to send to different hospitals, and he plans to keep at it. “For April we want to make sure that PPE’s get to more hospitals,” he said. He will continue to seek donors, he said, because the clinics will continue to need resources to treat patients, and not only during the pandemic.
“We need to prepare our health care system for the future, to have more financial resources and have a stronger system to fight a medical emergency,” he said, “in case it happens again.”