Harlem Hospital: A Dream Realized
Persevering to Create a Quality Patient Experience
BY James R. King, DDS
NYC Health + Hospitals | Harlem is a safety net hospital that serves some of the most economically, socially, and health disadvantaged residents in New York City. At Harlem, the staff has a history of providing quality care to patients, regardless of their ability to pay and despite limited resources. Dentistry is no exception. In the early 1980s, under the leadership and direction of Dr. James E. McIntosh, NYC Health + Hospitals | Harlem established its first department of dentistry. It was always Dr. McIntosh’s dream to open a full service dental clinic. After the establishment of the new department, Dr. McIntosh worked tirelessly to open the first dental clinic at NYC Health + Hospitals | Harlem in 1984. At that time, the clinic served 6,000 patients annually. The clinic was the first of its kind for NYC’s Health + Hospitals system, setting the standard for providing quality dental services to underserved populations in New York City.
In the early 90s, Harlem Hospital experienced a surge in dental visits and our visits jumped from 6,000 visits annually to over 27,000 visits. The clinic space could no longer accommodate the number of patients that walked through the doors. With 24 operatories and only two x-ray machines, patient visits lasted for hours and the wait for appointments was beyond 30 days. As the number of visits began to increase, our ability to function effectively in the clinic was negatively impacted.
As a result, I began to dream again. With the foundation set by my predecessor, Dr. McIntosh, I dreamed of a modern dental space with technologically advanced dental equipment, efficient patient flow, patient-centered services, and greater access.
To make this dream come to life, I began by meeting with architects to design the optimal dental space. The vision was for 34 dental chairs, including pediatric and wheelchair accessible chairs, digital imaging equipment in each patient room, panoramic imaging machines, and patient-centered flow. With the new designs created, hospital leadership included the construction of the new clinic in the Hospital Wide Modernization Plan. In 2007 to 2008, we hit a roadblock because of a nationwide economic crisis. Funding for Harlem Hospital’s modernization project was cut deeply. Leadership decided to temporarily exclude the dental clinic from the modernization plans, but we were given the reign to find alternative funding sources.
With the help of the hospital’s strategic planning department, we went to work. We applied for funding from City Council and were awarded $1.8 million to purchase equipment. We applied for funding from New York State’s Health Care Efficiency and Affordability Law (HEAL) Capital Grants Program. After a number of tries, we were awarded $3.8 million dollars from HEAL NY Phase 21 in 2012. After 4 years, we were on our way to begin breaking ground.
With $5 million in funds, we had to restructure the original dream. Instead of 34 operatories, there would be 23 operatories, including five pediatric operatories. All would be wheelchair accessible. The clinic would have digital x-ray imaging equipment in each room, and two digital panoramic x-ray machines with one cephalometric imaging machine for pediatric patients.
As we neared the end of construction, we learned we were still $350,000 short of our goal. I decided to call on the Friends of Harlem Hospital Center. Friends of Harlem Hospital Center is a non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) auxiliary organization with a mission to enhance and promote quality patient care in the northern Manhattan area and to assure high quality and efficient services at Harlem Hospital Center. Under the leadership of Corwin Breeden, the Friends of Harlem Hospital Center donated $350,000 to assist me in seeing the dream finally come to life.
After more than 10 years in the making, the Dr. James E. McIntosh Dental Services department opened its doors on May 8, 2015. It was Dr. McIntosh’s dedication and commitment to the community that inspired me to continue the work that he began. Since the opening of the Dr. James E. McIntosh Dental Clinic, patient visits have increased by 8% to 10% monthly. Patients feel comfortable at this clinic.
“The new Harlem Hospital Dentistry [clinic] has a professional team of staff, doctors, nurses, interns, and dental assistants. They treat you with dignity and respect and make you feel welcomed like family. This dentistry clinic is a vital asset to this community. I would recommend it to everyone!” noted Kathy E. Turner, a patient at the clinic.
We are carrying out the mission of NYC Health + Hospitals | Harlem—committing to improving the health of the village of Harlem and providing culturally competent, compassionate, quality care to our patients in a safe environment.
In 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal agency, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), commissioned the murals at Harlem Hospital Center.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James R. King, DDS, is the Director of the Department of Dentistry at the Dr. James E. McIntosh Dental Services at Harlem Hospital Center in New York.