New Brooklyn coronavirus hospital closes… without opening

Back at the end of March, near the height of the pandemic outbreak in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal at Red Hook was going to be converted to a temporary hospital to handle the anticipated overflow of COVID-19 patients. In a remarkable display of the normally stagnant bureaucracy moving at lightning speed, money for the project was “found,” a contractor from Texas was signed on and the work began. In only a few weeks, the facility was ready to go into operation. And now the makeshift medical center is closing… without ever having treated a single patient.

A roughly $21 million Brooklyn field hospital authorized by the de Blasio administration at the height of the coronavirus pandemic opened and closed without ever seeing one patient, according to city officials.

The Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook was one of several sites across the five boroughs converted into a medical facility as a way to relieve the city’s overburdened hospital system as the COVID-19 crisis mounted.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans on Mar. 31 — a day after the USNS Comfort hospital ship arrived in New York Harbor to aid in the coronavirus fight — for the $20.8 million Red Hook field hospital with an estimated capacity for 750 beds.

Hey, it was only $21 million, amirite? And I’m sure that SLSCO, the Texas construction contractor hired to do the work was thrilled to have the business.

To be fair to the Mayor, that money is supposedly being reimbursed by FEMA. Of course, that may take a little while to happen since we’re currently burning through all of FEMA’s normal funding like a California wildfire. But don’t let that bother you. Just like everything else during this pandemic, if FEMA’s cash runs out we’ll just send somebody back out to the Rose Garden and pluck another half-trillion off of the money tree that apparently grows there.

The cruise terminal wasn’t the only facility to undergo such a transformation. Several others were similarly modified, including the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. There were another 350 mostly empty beds set up on the courts there. Three other sites were identified for the same purpose, though it’s unclear how far the reconstruction work went on those.

It’s kind of hard to fault the Mayor too much on this plan. At the time the decision was made, the number of deaths and new hospitalizations in the Big Apple was climbing steeply. New York was the first major, densely populated metropolitan area to get hit with such a widespread outbreak and nobody really knew when (or if) the peak would be reached. The fear of running out of hospital beds was very real, and both the Mayor and the Governor of New York were faced with the choice of crossing their fingers and doing nothing or trying to expand the city’s hospital bed capacity.

So Bill de Blasio took a gamble that wound up not being needed. I suppose that’s better than the alternative scenario of not acting and running out of beds. But it’s also a reminder that the government usually tends to move more slowly and deliberatively for a reason. And when taxpayer money starts flying around in a fast and furious manner, it’s more important than ever to ensure that some oversight is taking place. These are precisely the times when friends and well-connected political allies tend to mysteriously wind up winning government contracts that are hastily set up and awarded, sometimes without a competitive bidding process being put in place.

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