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NYU Hospital Closure Leaves Expectant Moms Scrambling

By Leslie Albrecht | December 20, 2012 7:02am

KIPS BAY — When Lisa, a Kips Bay mom, was selecting an obstetrician to help with the birth of her second child, one of her top priorities was to find a doctor who could deliver the baby anywhere other than Beth Israel Hospital.

Her son had been born there, and Lisa hadn't enjoyed the experience. The hospital felt rushed and crowded. This time, she wanted to have her baby at NYU Langone Medical Center, and selected her doctor in part because of his affiliation with NYU.

But a month before her due date, Lisa is suddenly facing the likelihood of delivering again at Beth Israel. She's one of many expectant moms from around the city whose carefully orchestrated birth plans were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, which shuttered NYU Langone and scattered its patients.

"I'm not really sure what I'm going to do," said Lisa, who asked that her real name not be used. "I really don't want to go back to Beth Israel. I feel like it might be worth it to show up at Lenox Hill in labor and just have whoever is there deliver the baby."

Almost two months after the storm, many moms are scrambling to make new plans for childbirth in the absence of NYU Langone. The hospital, which handles about 5,100 births a year, hopes to have its obstetrics unit up and running by Jan. 14, said Dr. David Keefe, the chair of NYU's obstetrics and gynecology department.

But NYU's ongoing closure has added fresh anxiety to the already stressful process of giving birth for many expectant parents. Some say they have been confused by conflicting reports.

For example, one section of NYU's website announces that all scheduled births have been transferred to Lenox Hill Hospital. But NYU officials said that information only applies to some doctors who are full-time faculty members at NYU. 

Lisa was told right after the storm that her OBGYN could deliver her baby at either Beth Israel, Lenox Hill Hospital or Winthrop-University Hospital on Long Island. But at a recent appointment, she got some unwelcome news: Her OB was now only delivering at Beth Israel.

"Although we try to meet the expectations of all patients, we also recognize the difficulty in achieving this goal," Harris M. Nagler, Beth Israel's president, said in a statement. "Nevertheless, we believe and know that there are many patients who would depict a different view of the excellent care they received in our institution."

An NYU spokeswoman said it's up to individual obstetricians to re-route their patients, depending on where each doctor has hospital privileges. So patients should first check with their physician, not NYU, to find out where they can give birth, she added.

NYU's Keefe said quelling patient anxiety was a top priority for NYU doctors during the post-Sandy upheaval.

"The only thing worse than going to a foreign hospital about to face labor is to do so with a bunch of strangers, so we had our doctors stay with [their patients]," Keefe said. "In the end, the most important thing is a familiar face who knows the history."

On the night of the storm and in the days immediately following Sandy, Mount Sinai Medical Center stepped in to take on NYU's displaced patients, but its facilities were quickly overwhelmed.

"They all of the sudden realized they couldn't accommodate everybody, so they very nicely asked, 'Would you mind finding another place?'" Keefe explained.

Next, Lenox Hill took some of NYU's OBGYN patients, until it too went over capacity. Then New York Downtown Hospital offered up space, Keefe said.

Now, NYU's 57 obstetricians are mostly divided between Mount Sinai, Lenox Hill, New York Downtown, St. Luke's-Roosevelt and Beth Israel, Keefe said.

Still, finding extra OB beds has been a challenge, he noted.

"New York is already tight on obstetrical beds, and meanwhile there's a baby boom," Keefe explained. "New York women are young and healthy, and even if they've delayed child birth, they want their baby and they want it in a New York hospital."

Already stressed pregnant moms say the added burden of figuring out where they'll give birth is an unwelcome addition during their last trimester.

"I'm being sent to NY Downtown. It's SO far away, and not nearly as nice as NYU. NYU, please, please reopen before March!" wrote a worried mom on The Bump, an online community for pregnant moms.

Another nervous new parent displaced from NYU to Lenox Hill was filled with questions on the What To Expect online community. "I've read some posts about Lenox Hill and had more questions for mothers that delivered there," she wrote. "Does your baby stay with you the whole time? Delivery rooms are private, right? (might be a dumb question). What is their policy on visitors?"

One mom-to-be wrote that she would likely be delivering at Beth Israel and asked for feedback on private rooms there. She ended her post with a frustrated burst.

"These changes are happening so last minute," she wrote. "AHHH!!!"