Uniqueness Yields Vulnerability

Will Coler Survive? Legislative Brunch Shadowed by Worries

Updated 10 weeks ago David Stone
CAB member Judith Berdy conferred with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer before the meeting.
CAB member Judith Berdy conferred with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer before the meeting.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Coler, a long term care facility embedded in New York City's Health & Hospitals network, is at least as unique as the Roosevelt Island community in which it forms the northernmost neighborhood. Its sui generis nature may be its most vulnerable characteristic.

Coler's Community Advisory Board invited politicians - Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer chief among them - media, concerned staff and community to a Legislative Breakfast on Friday at the hospital. It's an annual event.

Although affection for and tributes to Coler's rehabilitative successes are considerable, threats to the hospital, opened as Bird S. Coler in 1952, and its survival have grown more apparent.

As we reported in November, the City has long advertised the land on which Coler sits for sale without attracting serious buyers, but it's clear that a sale is not a required precursor to closing.

You couldn't miss the unsubtle hints on Friday.

When Brewer took her turn at the podium, she delivered a powerful call to action to keep the rehabilitation center open. 

Reflecting on her many years as a City Council Member, Brewer said, "No fight is easy in New York City." 

But more telling were the remarks by Robert Hughes, Coler's CEO, who some suspect of being charged with easing the facility into retirement.

While bragging rightfully about Coler's high rated levels of care and innovative programming, he also emphasized how unusual were its characteristics.

One eye-opening figure was 33%. That's the number of residents Coler serves without compensation from any public or private insurance plan, a number guaranteeing its books are awash in red ink.

And it's unique in other ways with an atypical population that's 68% male and an average age of 62. 50% are under 65.

Gladys Dixon, CAB Chairperson, talked about her advocacy in behalf of Coler before announcing her retirement from the Board in September.
Gladys Dixon, CAB Chairperson, talked about her advocacy in behalf of Coler before announcing her retirement from the Board in September.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

A critical piece of information Hughes shared is that a high number of patients are "independent enough to live in the community, if facilities were available." That means Coler's a necessary resource largely because of the City's lack of accessible low and middle income housing, not because of its services.

One likely cause of these anomalies was Coler's role in accepting a large number of victims from the City's 1990s era drug wars, young men who were crippled in violence, but survived.

And therein lies the poison pill making it vulnerable.

As Hughes said, answering a question from Frank Farance, a "market shift," that is, greatly reduced crime and the violence accompanying it, results in "lower utilization."

Coler is an 815 bed operation, but around 300 of those are thought to be permanently empty and others established in archaic, so-called semi-private rooms of four.

Hughes added that there is "no plan to expand utilization," which, realistically, is the only obvious tool that might ensure Coler's survival in a cost conscious health care environment.

******

In other news, the Community Advisory Board's longtime Chairperson, Gladys Dixon, a vigorous advocate for Coler's viability, will step down in September and be replaced by current Vice Chair Gary Delmonthe.

 

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