A victim of circumstances
Albany ways during a peculiar Albany daze
After Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo could not get the State Legislature to restructure the top positions at the MTA, the Thursday news release announcing that Janno Lieber will be the acting head of the MTA came as no surprise. But a quote in the release from Sarah Feinberg, who was to have split the leadership roles with Lieber, did raise eyebrows.
"While I am disappointed in the Senate's delay in taking up deliberations of our nominations, I have no doubt Janno will do a tremendous job in the acting role…. I hope to join him soon in leading the MTA and region through this next chapter," she is quoted saying in the release.
So Feinberg, who was running New York City Transit, would return to the MTA, as its chairwoman, if the Senate agrees to legislation that would separate the roles of the chair and CEO. The Assembly has already approved splitting the jobs. The Senate would also have to hold confirmation hearings for the two spots.
So how likely is that to happen?
When the MTA deal fell apart at the end of the legislative session in June, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said the members could be called back in a few days or weeks for the vote that would allow both Feinberg and Janno to serve.
John Samuelsen, president of the Transit Workers Union, acknowledged to theThe Point Thursday that he was a leader in the effort to block the MTA changes and that he would continue to do so.
"It was bad policy and opposed by most transit advocates. And I will keep blocking it," he said, as he waited to testify before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee about increased funding for public transit.
However, Samuelsen denied he was motivated by revenge toward Cuomo for refusing the union’s demand to sweeten TWU pensions. In 2012, the legislature capped at $15,000 the amount of overtime that could be calculated toward pension benefits of workers in Tier 6. In 2019 Cuomo vetoed more than a dozen sweeteners, including one specifically for city transit workers..
"He did stab transit workers in the back," said Samuelsen. "But you can’t conflate the two issues." Samuelsen still bristles over a tweet in July by Cuomo’s press secretary Rich Azzopardi that called him an "extortionist."
Even if Cuomo could mend his fences with the TWU, State Senate sources say Stewart-Cousins is reluctant to bring her members back to Albany for any reason, because of the uncertainty surrounding the release of the independent investigation of Cuomo that Attorney General Tish James is overseeing. That report -- whether it condemns Cuomo or finds that no laws were broken, or does both -- would put legislators in the uncomfortable position of having to answer questions about whether the governor should remain in office. Its release is expected before Labor Day.
"No one wants to answer questions on that right now," said one legislative source. "No one wants to be near Albany when it falls out of the sky."
So a lot more than the governing structure of the MTA is up in the air in Albany for now, as the guessing game begins on what the investigative report about Cuomo will find and what state lawmakers will do about it.
— Rita Ciolli @ritaciolli
Reading the pandemic
With the coronavirus pandemic entering a new and still-urgent phase, hospitals in the region are relying on lessons learned in earlier stages of the crisis. For a glimpse of those lessons, The Point turned to two recent books written jointly by Michael Dowling and Charles Kenney, Northwell Health's CEO and chief journalist, respectively.
In "Leading Through a Pandemic," the authors outline some of the preparations and decisions that helped the regional health giant weather the storm. That includes a culture of emergency preparedness dating to a 1998 conference on weapons of mass destruction, at which a picture of the then-little known Osama bin Laden was shown.
Early in March 2020, with staff members starting to get exposed to the virus, the authors point to a pivotal decision to require masks for all Northwell emergency department employees. It was a "game changer" and "wound up keeping our staff much safer than they would have been otherwise."
The book describes the complicated interplay between hospitals and different levels of government, including an interesting after-action report on the much-maligned hospital vessel USNS Comfort, which welcomed few patients early on but ultimately took on some "extremely sick patients." The authors write, quoting a Northwell executive who said that on a night when Jamaica Hospital had an issue with its oxygen supplies, "the Comfort took ten of their ICU patients," potentially saving ten lives in one evening.
The book outlines ways to get ready for the next threat -- and perhaps even that might have worked for the current one -- including a focus on staff safety, telehealth, and a better supply line for personal protective equipment, ventilators and more. In the long run, the authors suggest it is "dangerous" to be too reliant on China or any other country for essential supplies. They highlight load balancing, which is the ability to move patients from packed hospitals to calmer ones, as crucial during the pandemic.
"After the Roof Caved In" is a more introspective work that covers Dowling's immigrant story from poverty in Ireland to America, including living with rats in a thatched-roof home. The book details Dowling's close relationship with former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, for whom he worked. Dowling also has high praise for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, with whom he has often been tied to the hip during the pandemic, saying Andrew "reminded me of his father in his calmness and in his sustained focus on facts and science."
This is not the place to find much criticism of the state's pandemic response, though both books touch on things Dowling wishes Northwell had done earlier, allowing that "there were periods of confusion and chaos."
As for the federal government: "Could we as a nation have done a more effective job of containing the virus with stronger, more effective leadership from the White House? In my view, absolutely."
Sign up here for Newsday’s book talk with Dowling next week.
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
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Behind the scenes of a life expectancy editorial
It often happens that the internal names or "slugs" of Newsday editorials include the same words when we return to familiar subjects -- MTA, NUMC, ROADS. But when that happened with LIFE on Monday there was an eerie twist.
The name was an obvious one for our editorial about newly released data on American life expectancy, but there was an old LIFE-labeled editorial about life expectancy numbers already in our content management system, never published.
We wrote it late in January 2020 to celebrate new federal data that showed a small one-month bump in life expectancy for 2018, the first such increase in four years. We called it "a small ray after a shocking period of decline during which suicides and drug overdoses decreased the average American’s years on earth, first world medical advances overcome."
For one reason or another the piece held a few days -- there’s always a lot going on in the Long Island region -- and by the time we were planning to put it online and in the paper, the news about COVID-19 was becoming more and more alarming. It didn’t make sense to celebrate a life-boosting trend here while a deadly disease was flourishing elsewhere, and soon New York had its first confirmed cases and that was that.
The new life expectancy numbers this time around were bad rather than good news thanks to the pandemic, showing a decrease in American life expectancy by 1.5 years from 78.8 in 2019 to 77.3 in 2020.
The broad health indicator varies from state to state, and New York ranked a high third among the states in life expectancy as recently as 2018, but granular up-to-date local information is hard to come by. We do know that the pandemic has been devastating in Nassau and Suffolk counties for the past year-and-a-half.
We wrote about that new reality, but did find some silver linings in the new numbers which show that COVID-19 aside, we can overcome health crises and increase our lifes pans and get back to the positive trend that we glimpsed in that never-run, never-read ghost editorial.
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano