Adams promises to better women’s care, treat social media as a ‘public health hazard’ in State of the City


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January 25, 2024

Mayor Eric Adams’ State of the City speech was relatively light on mentions of health care policy. However, he painted an optimistic picture of the city’s future, buoyed by promises to improve health care access for women and protect kids’ mental health in the face of excessive social media usage.

The city is “strong, far stronger than it was two years ago,” the mayor said in his address, given Wednesday at CUNY’s Hostos Community College in the Bronx. But its continued success, he emphasized, centers around making sure more women can reach equitable health care.

According to the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the maternal mortality crisis in New York is “especially severe” for Black mothers. The pregnancy-related mortality ratio for Black women between 2016-2020 was four times higher than that of white women. In 2020, the department reports, 51 women died pregnancy-associated deaths and 23 were Black.

To that end, Adams announced Wednesday that the city will soon launch a $40 million Women Forward NYC initiative, aimed at making the city a more equitable place to live. Parts of the program will work to reduce mortality rates among Black and Brown women and improve access to comprehensive medical treatment and screenings for postpartum depression.

Beyond maternal health, the plan aims to enhance mental health education and outreach for women, address barriers to sexual and reproductive health and grow initiatives to reduce violence toward women, particularly women of color and those that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary. The full details of the Women Forward NYC initiative have yet to be revealed.

The mayor also centered the city’s young people in his announcement. He connected rising rates of mental health issues among kids to the dangers of social media and said the city is focused on preventing negative consequences going forward.

“Companies like TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook are fueling a mental health crisis by designing their platforms with addictive and dangerous features,” he said. “We cannot stand by and let Big Tech monetize our children’s privacy and jeopardize their mental health.”

Adams’ words coincide with Dr. Ashwin Vasan, the commissioner of the DOHMH, issuing an advisory around youth social media usage. According to the documents, released Wednesday, rates of city high schoolers experiencing hopelessness increased by more than 42% between 2011 and 2021. Rates of suicidal ideation increased by more than 34%.

Vasan’s advisory acknowledges that social media usage might have some benefits for kids. But, he wrote, the U.S. Surgeon General has advised that it poses a “profound risk of harm” to adolescents’ mental health.

In light of this, he directed adults who interact with kids in school and community settings to promote social media usage that protects their mental health. This could include implementing “tech-free” time to encourage in-person connection, he wrote, and modeling healthy social media use. He also encouraged parents and caregivers to implement family media plans and delay giving kids access to smartphones until they are 14 or older.

Adams’ address and Vasan’s directive follow similar sentiments from Gov. Kathy Hochul. Earlier this month, she announced that she will push for legislation to limits social media features that are harmful to kids to better protect their mental health.

In response to Adams’ address and Vasan’s advisory, Jennifer March, the executive director of the Citizens’ Committee for Children, cautioned that guidance around social media is “not so simple.”

The online world can be an important place for kids to connect with people they can’t reach in their communities, she said. This can be vital for youth who identify as LGBTQ+ and members of other marginalized groups.

“The question is, how do we support young people and families to make appropriate developmentally appropriate decisions?” March said. She added that focusing on social media cannot take away from the broader investments New York needs to make in its youth behavioral health care system.

As rates of mental health issues among kids rise, their access to care remains limited, she said. Kids and parents are waiting months for screenings, she said, and more and more adolescents are winding up in emergency rooms. They’re then discharged in communities that lack the mental health infrastructure to fully support them, she said. The Citizens’ Committee for Children, which is based in the Financial District, and a coalition of other groups are asking for $195 million in the state budget to invest in the continuum of care so more children can access help.

In his address Tuesday, Adams emphasized that the city will treat social media usage among kids differently going forward.

“Just as the surgeon general did with tobacco and guns, we are treating social media like other public health hazards and ensuring that tech companies take responsibility for their products,” he said. “You’ll be hearing more about this in the future.” —Jacqueline Neber

 

Northwell’s South Shore University Hospital finalizes $71M women’s and children’s hospital

South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore completed construction on a $71 million health care facility for women and children, the hospital announced Wednesday.

The Suffolk County hospital finalized its 45,560-square-foot Women and Children’s Center with the completion of a new labor and delivery suite, said Dr. Irene Macyk, executive director of South Shore University Hospital.

“Our mother-baby services have been growing,” Macyk told Crain’s. She said that the hospital is expanding its high-risk services so that people can get the care they need in their community, rather than traveling miles away. The new center is expected to grow South Shore’s volume to 5,000 births a year, a hospital spokesperson said.

Macyk added that adapting maternal health services is critical as childbirth has evolved — people are choosing to have babies later in life, and may present with chronic health conditions or delivery complications. South Shore is attempting to not only provide this high-risk care, but also offer a warm and welcoming space that allows new mothers to bond with their babies, Macyk said.

The new labor and delivery suite opened just this month, but the Women and Children’s Center has other upgraded services that have been open for about a year, Macyk said. The two-story facility also has 29 private postpartum rooms, a neonatal intensive care unit, a post-anesthesia recovery unit, two operating rooms and obstetrical triage beds. The operating rooms are outfitted with new technology including a da Vinci surgical system to perform minimally invasive gynecologic surgeries.

The expansion of the Women and Children’s Center at South Shore builds on a $500 million, five-year investment to grow health care services at the facility, the hospital said. South Shore recently broke ground on a $468 million pavilion that will add 90 private patient rooms, 10 operating rooms and three additional procedure areas.

South Shore University Hospital, which has 313 beds, is a part of Northwell Health. The health care system has 21 hospitals statewide and employs 85,000 people. —Amanda D’Ambrosio

 

Brooklyn medical testing company slashes 185 workers after selling to Quest

Brooklyn medical testing firm Lenco Diagnostics Laboratories plans to lay off the bulk of its workforce this spring after selling select assets of its business to testing giant Quest Diagnostics, the company said Wednesday.

Lenco Labs, based in Bensonhurst, will cut 185 employees by April 15 — approximately 75% of its workforce, according to a notice filed with the state Department of Labor. Most of the layoffs will impact the company’s headquarters at 1857 86th St., which will lose more than 120 workers. But the cuts are planned at 20 different sites across Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island.

Lenco’s workforce totaled 239 people before the layoffs, the filing said.

Lenco is laying off its workforce after entering a definitive agreement to sell select assets of the company to Secaucus-based Quest Diagnostics, said Michele Walsh, chief strategy officer at Lenco. As a part of the acquisition, lab volumes will transition to Quest’s laboratory in Clifton, New Jersey over time, she added.

“We understand that Quest will be extending job offers to a variety of current Lenco employees,” Walsh told Crain’s. “Lenco is committed to a respectful and transparent transition process for all our employees.”

Wendy Bost, a spokeswoman for Quest Diagnostics, said that Quest is planning to extend job offers to “several dozen” Lenco employees. The companies expect the acquisition to be finalized in the first quarter of this year, she added.

“With the acquisition, providers and patients in New York will benefit from broader access to Quest’s innovative, industry-leading test menu, expansive health plan relationships and extensive patient service center network,” Bost said.

Lenco Labs provides a range of medical tests from blood counts to diagnostics for genetic illnesses. The company also became a major provider of Covid-19 tests to Brooklyn at the height of the pandemic — it reported administering 20,000 tests a week in July 2020. — A.D.

 

Attorney for municipal retirees urges court to uphold Medicare Advantage decision in latest brief

A Financial District-based attorney added the latest argument to the legal tussle between municipal retirees and the city over Medicare Advantage health insurance on Wednesday night.

Jake Gardener, a partner at Walden Macht & Haran, represents the retirees in their class action lawsuit against the city originally filed in May. The suit aims to stop the city from pushing retirees onto Medicare Advantage plans from supplemental health plans, arguing that the city promised retirees certain benefits and Advantage plans would jeopardize their access to health care.

A Supreme Court judge permanently blocked the city’s attempt in August, and the city filed an appeal in November. Now, Gardener is urging the Appellate Division to uphold the Supreme Court’s decision.

In his brief, Gardener restates arguments used in the retirees’ original case. The court documents claim that the city repeatedly told municipal workers they’d be entitled to city-funded insurance upon retirement. That insurance would be a combination of Medicare and Medicare supplemental insurance, he wrote. The city denied making any coverage promises in its November appeal.

“The retirees built their lives around this healthcare promise. They pursued low-paying and, in many cases, dangerous careers in civil service based on the understanding that when they became elderly or disabled, they would be rewarded,” Gardener wrote. “And they have made irreversible medical, financial, residential, and other decisions in reliance on this promised healthcare.”

Under the city’s plan, retirees would be automatically enrolled in Medicare Advantage unless they opted out. Gardener’s brief argues that opting out and purchasing supplemental insurance is financially impossible for many retirees.

Furthermore, the brief states, Medicare Advantage could threaten retirees’ access to care if their doctors aren’t in-network or the insurer denies prior authorization for treatment. It calls Aetna, who would administer the Medicare Advantage plan with the city, the “worst offender in the country” when it comes to unwarranted prior authorization denials.

In their Medicare Advantage contract, Aetna agreed to waive prior authorization requirements for more than 70% of procedures that it would require them for at least two years. City officials have also maintained that the Medicare Advantage plan offers better benefits than the Senior Care supplemental plan many retirees have.

Gardener told Crain’s that the city will now have a few weeks to craft a response to his brief and that the court could hear oral arguments in March before issuing a decision. —J.N.

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