Volume 19 Issue 53 | May 18 -24, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

Dr. Bruce Logan, left, New York Downtown Hospital’s chief of medicine and former C.E.O., welcomed Jeffrey Menkes, the new C.E.O., at a hospital ceremony Tuesday.

Hospital marks 150 years with new sign and C.E.O.

By Skye H. McFarlane

It was a celebration of the old and new at New York Downtown Hospital Tuesday, as the hospital showed off a new street sign and new leadership while honoring the hospital’s 150-year-old legacy.

The current Downtown Hospital was formed in 1979 by the merger of two health centers, the Beekman Downtown Hospital and the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. The latter institution was founded 150 years ago this May by Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first licensed female physician in the United States. In addition to starting the Infirmary, Blackwell founded one of the first medical schools for women, offered formal education for nurses, and crusaded against slavery and poverty.

On Tuesday, the hospital unveiled a sign for “Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell Place” in front of the hospital’s new emergency wing on Gold St. The event was also an unveiling of sorts for the hospital’s new president and chief executive officer, Jeffrey Menkes, who addressed the public for the first time since starting the job on May 7.

Both in his public speech and in a later interview with the Downtown Express, Menkes stressed the importance of working with members of the diverse Downtown community. Though the hospital is striving to raise its stature with high-tech equipment and new medical specialists, Menkes said that it will never abandon its mission of caring for the neighborhood, including many underserved and uninsured residents from nearby Chinatown.

“The Chinatown community truly appreciates honoring one’s ancestors, especially in times of celebration,” Menkes told the crowd at the event, as photographers from the area’s Chinese-language newspapers snapped away. He said that as someone who treated disenfranchised populations like women and the poor, Dr. Blackwell would approve of the hospital’s continuing mandate “to care for our neighbors regardless of their social or financial standing.”

Speeches from Dr. Bruce Logan (the hospital’s former C.E.O. and current chief of medicine) and representatives from Community Board 1 and Councilmember Alan Gerson’s office all echoed the same sentiment — that the hospital’s commitment to emergency services would have made the pioneering Dr. Blackwell proud. Eric Y. Ng, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, spoke of the hospital’s longstanding devotion to the health of the Chinatown community.

There was some levity at the sign unveiling when the paper cover over the new green Department of Transportation sign ripped, leaving half of the paper clinging to the sign about 10 feet off the ground. A hospital employee knocked the other half down using a long stretch of P.V.C. piping, drawing cheers from the crowd.

At a reception inside, Menkes told Downtown Express that he was happy to have the opportunity to “get out and meet the community.” After working as a healthcare consultant at PriceWaterhouse Coopers, he said, he was drawn to the personal interaction involved in the Downtown Hospital job.

Downtown Hospital has had its ups and downs over the years, struggling for funds, changing names and switching academic affiliations. But after 9/11, the hospital began to focus on emergency preparedness, starting an international symposium on the topic and building a new emergency center, complete with a decontamination unit and hideaway triage spaces that can be opened in the event of a large-scale medical crisis.

Menkes said he is grateful that the man who led those initiatives, Dr. Logan, will still be around. Logan stepped back into his former role as chief of medicine because he wanted to return to patient care, but Menkes said that Logan would be at his side as the hospital moves forward.

With a donation from AIG, the hospital recently invested in a next-generation imaging machine — called a 64-slice C.T. scanner — that can produce three-dimensional images of organs like the heart. Menkes’ eyes lit up when he spoke about the scanner and the other possibilities for the hospital to improve and grow in the future.

Menkes hopes to develop the hospital’s fledgling partnership with the New York Presbyterian system. Though he doesn’t know yet what the partnership will mean for the treatment of 9/11 illnesses — a top concern of community residents — he is confident that the new venture will greatly improve the hospital’s ability to treat heart conditions and cancer, as well as boosting recognition of the hospital’s teaching programs.

With a connection to New York Presbyterian, Menkes said, Downtown Hospital patients who can’t get certain treatments at the hospital will now be able to get appropriate care within the Presbyterian system — and without leaving Manhattan. But ideally, Menkes wants to recruit specialists, from Presbyterian and elsewhere, so that Downtown Hospital patients can get whatever treatment they need right on Beekman St.

“Import the talent, don’t export the patient — that’s going to be my motto,” Menkes said.

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