New York congressional, senate reps push for federal funding of Elmhurst Hospital’s maternity ward

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U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congresswomen Grace Meng and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thanked Elmhurst Hospital staff for their dedication during the COVID-19 pandemic after a press conference on June 4. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Queens Congresswomen Grace Meng and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were joined by several elected officials and healthcare advocates at Elmhurst Hospital on June 4 to advocate for the “much-needed” renovation of Elmhurst Hospital’s obstetrical inpatient facilities.

Ocasio-Cortez and Meng, who’s a member of the House Appropriations Committee, recently submitted a joint community funding request of $3 million for Elmhurst Hospital in the House’s next fiscal year budget. If the funding request is fulfilled and renovation is completed, the obstetrical facility at Elmhurst Hospital will provide a more modern and safer maternal health care experience for Elmhurst’s mostly working-class and immigrant community.

The facilities would have a family-centered environment that would also improve upon privacy standards for women in labor by providing a quieter environment, which will promote post-labor recovery, and facilitates bonding between a mother and her child.

The representatives were joined by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, President and Chief Executive Officer of NYC Health + Hospitals Mitchell Katz, Elmhurst Hospital CEO Helen Arteaga Landaverde and state Senator Jessica Ramos, as well as Assemblywomen Jessica González-Rojas and Catalina Cruz.

Landaverde opened the press conference describing the three female congressional leaders as “amazing women, who are not only passionate and touching, beautiful and committed to their communities” but also, “more importantly, strong women of New York.”

Helen Arteaga Landaverde speaks at a press conference at Elmhurst Hospital. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

She took the occasion to acknowledge the entire Elmhurst Hospital staff, saying they are the real heroes of Elmhurst who helped over 100,000 patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Landaverde then introduced Katz as a “true leader” in the face of an unprecedented health crisis.

“For me, you were always the quiet, calm voice that left me thinking that we can beat this thing,” Landaverde said.

Dr. Katz recalled the phone call he received from former Elmhurst Hospital CEO Israel Rocha at the beginning of the pandemic last year. Rocha told him that they just intubated 16 patients in the last two hours and that “something very different was happening.”

Elmhurst Hospital — which serves a majority immigrant population across Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona — became the “epicenter of the epicenter” of the COVID-19 pandemic and showed the way forward, dealing with an unprecedented crisis, never turning anyone away, Dr. Katz said.

Dr. Katz speaks at a press conference at Elmhurst Hospital. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Katz then introduced Gillibrand, but not before sharing that the junior senator from New York messaged him throughout the worst weeks of the pandemic to assure him that Elmhurst would receive the help it needed.

Gillibrand emphasized that health care is a human right and that every New Yorker should have access to quality of care regardless of locality. She explained that the $3 million in funding for the renovation of the OBGYN unit would fight another crisis: maternal mortality.

Maternal mortality disproportionately impacts women of color, namely Black women, who are three to four times more likely to die during childbirth or within one year of giving birth because of biases within the healthcare system.

“This is a crisis of largely preventable deaths,” Gillibrand said. “Those deaths can be prevented with more resources and more training, and more supplies. We need to make investments in hospitals like this one, and we need to standardize the care across all communities.”

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand speaks at a press conference at Elmhurst Hospital. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Gillibrand also shared that she introduced two pieces of legislation in April to address the Black maternal health crisis: the Modernizing Obstetric Medicine Standards (MOMS) Act and the Maternal CARE Act.

“I believe that every mother has a right to a healthy and safe pregnancy,” Gillibrand said, promising to continue working with my colleagues to invest in Elmhurst and build more support for women of color.

Meng said the $3 million renovation proposal would help new mothers and parents, and emphasized that she’ll work alongside Ocasio-Cortez to bring in the funds.

“You are Elmhurst strong,” Meng said. “You deserve more than just the hashtag. You deserve more than just applause at 7 p.m. And we will do all that we can to show you our gratitude, not just in words but in action and money.”

Congresswoman Grace Meng with an employee of Elmhurst Hospital on June 4. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez said that she was thrilled that for the first time in 10 years that the House authorized community funding projects, also known as “earmarks,” with new rules in place to ensure strict transparency and accountability.

“We’re going to solve this maternal health crisis in this country, right here at Elmhurst Hospital,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “So we’re going back to Washington, we’re going to ask for $3 million for the OBGYN unit because Elmhurst is a place of strong women and because the strength of this community deserves the dignity of a world-class OBGYN.”

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks at a press conference at Elmhurst Hospital. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Richards emphasized that a person’s socioeconomic status shouldn’t determine the quality of health care they receive.

The borough president said he had no doubt the three congressional representatives would “bring home the bacon.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards speaks at a press conference at Elmhurst Hospital. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Ramos shared a very personal story.

Ramos’ mother went into cardiac arrest after giving birth to Ramos’ sister, Chelsea, at Elmhurst Hospital. Her mother was clinically dead for two minutes, but because of the expertise of the medical staff, her mom and sister survived.

The doctor who saved her mother’s and sister’s lives was none other than Dr. Jasmin Moshirpur, who’s been with Elmhurst Hospital for more than 50 years and currently serves as the chief medical officer at Elmhurst.

“For that, I am forever indebted to all of you,” Ramos said.

State Senator Jessica Ramos speaks at a press conference at Elmhurst Hospital. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

She thanked Gillibrand, Meng and Ocasio-Cortez for their fight to secure funding for Elmhurst’s OBGYN unit, “to make sure that my mom’s story and so many worst stories are never, ever repeated.”

“We want every single child that is born in our community to live to their full potential, and we want every mother to be able to enjoy as much of their child’s life as possible,” Ramos said.

Cruz asked for a moment of silence for the Elmhurst Hospital staff, their family members and friends who died of COVID-19.

“The best way to honor them is doing exactly what these amazing leaders are doing — it’s investing so that tomorrow when you have to deliver that baby, you have to bring that mother in, you have everything within your reach to be able to do something. You have every piece of equipment, a beautiful space, and you’re able to continue to do exactly what you’ve been doing, just in an easier way,” Cruz said.

Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and Queens Borough President Richards tour Elmhurst Hospital on June 4. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

González-Rojas, who’s worked for nonprofit organizations fighting for reproductive justice in the Latino community and other communities of color for many years, said that reproductive justice also included giving birth in a dignified environment.

“I’m going to fight alongside my senator, and my congress members, and my colleagues, to make sure that the money that you all deserve, that our community deserves, will land right here in Elmhurst Hospital,” González-Rojas said. “I can’t wait to bring this maternal health ward to our community, our immigrant community that is serviced with love, with dignity and with justice.”