Queens Trauma Doctor Warns That Two Public Health Crises Could Converge
As Jamaica Hospital Medical Center’s Trauma Medical Director, Dr. Katherine McKenzie oversees the treatment of people who are seriously injured, often as a result of car crashes or gun violence.
The hospital is a “Level 1 Trauma Center,” a designation for hospitals providing the highest level of trauma care, for example, by having a trauma surgeon on duty at all times.
Back in March, McKenzie’s team also had to help the hospital deal with a surge of critically ill COVID-19 patients.
“We are the only trauma center in Southern Queens. We have a huge catchment area, and we really fill the need for the community, and so maintaining that service was a huge priority, but it wasn’t easy. It was really, really difficult,” McKenzie said.
When COVID-19 admissions started to decline as the weather warmed, Jamaica Hospital began to see an influx of another kind of patient – victims of gun violence.
“You don’t really know if that’s a trend or not yet, or if that was just a bad weekend or a bad week or bad couple of weeks,” McKenzie said.
By Labor Day, the hospital had treated more gunshot and stabbing victims in 2020 than in all of last year. It was a similar trend born out in citywide police data too. Through November 30, homicides have increased by 38 percent this year over the same period last year, and shooting incidents have nearly doubled in the same period.
“It just feels like the wave never subsided. And I think that’s another reason why everyone is fearful and worried about the winter and what’s behind the corner,” McKenzie said.
With COVID-19 cases rising again and gun violence remaining a problem in the city, McKenzie is concerned that the hospital could be caught at the intersection of two public health crises.
“If you had those two things happening at the same time, you can imagine the stress that it does for our health care system here in New York,” she said.
The hospital currently has about 30 COVID-19 patients. That’s still well short of the 300 patients during the initial peak of the coronavirus crisis in the spring, but McKenzie and her team know how quickly the numbers of COVID-19 patients, and of gun-violence victims, can increase.
“Thinking about the possibility of going through that again, and maybe it even being worse, is a scary prospect for anybody,” McKenzie said.