Rivera: NYC Needs a Patient Advocate Office

Council Member introduces bill to help New Yorkers secure better medical care

| 26 Aug 2019 | 12:35

Navigating New York City’s health care system can be a challenge. Council Member Carlina Rivera hopes to change that.

Earlier this month Rivera, the chair of the Council Committee on Hospitals, introduced a bill that would create the Office of the Patient Advocate within the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The office’s responsibilities would include responding to patient complaints and inquiries related to medical care; collecting, analyzing and reporting on comments, questions, and complaints from patients; and recommending solutions to problems faced by the public in obtaining medical care. The bill will also help identify systemic trends in medicine and in certain neighborhoods.

Support and Oversight

“New York City’s health care system is an incredibly complex and difficult system for even a well-seasoned veteran of bureaucracy to navigate, let alone an ordinary New Yorker,” Rivera said. “And when you have problems in accessing care, from poor treatment, customer service, or issues with insurance, it often feels the only place you can go is to the same institution creating those problems.”

As chair of the hospitals committee, Rivera has visited hospitals and met with doctors and patients. She’s found that there are numerous issues, including discrimination in treatment, billing and insurance.

“The Office of the Patient Advocate will not only help New Yorkers on an issue-to-issue basis,” she said, “it will also provide critical oversight, investigations, and policy recommendations for our city’s hospital industry, particularly when they make service changes that can impact local communities.”

The Patient Advocate Office will help establish oversight for the state “Certificate of Need” system that any medical facility must go through when closing or changing the level of care available at a health care facility.

Rivera said she plans to hold a hearing in the near future to address the funding and staffing of the office. “We need to have people who understand policy recommendations, who understand the health care industry and who are great at administration,” she said. She hopes to see the bill passed within a year.

An Important Step

Max Hadler, director of health policy for the New York Immigration Coalition, believes the proposed office will benefit immigrants.

“We’re really excited that Council Member Rivera introduced the bill, and we’re very supportive of it,” he said. “It’s an important step and hopefully it will be implemented. Having a centralized office that is monitoring the types of complaints and concerns that patients have across the board, and specifically immigrants, is really a positive development.”

Elisabeth Benjamin has been in the health care field for 30 years. She is the vice president of health initiatives at the Community Service Society, where she supervises health policy, health advocacy, and consumer health assistance programs. Like Hadler, she fully supports the bill.

“I think consumers are really confused about how to get good and high quality information about hospitals,” Benjamin said. “It’s not easy to know where to go if you think a hospital is discriminating against you because of race, nationality or any other factor. To have a city agency focusing on hospitals will be helpful to consumers.”