De Blasio on what New York could learn from rural Nicaragua
Long before he ever ran for public office in New York, back in his liberal-activist days, Bill de Blasio mobilized against U.S. policy in Nicaragua during the Sandinista rebellion by traveling there to distribute medical supplies as a member of a group called Quest for Peace.
One of the things he saw there, he told a group of doctors in Brooklyn today, could serve as a lesson for New York City in the provision of care following a widespread disaster like Hurricane Sandy.
He recalled a lecture that the director of a local clinic in the town of Masaya delivered to a group of visiting aid workers.
"She put up a map of her town, and it showed literally where every house was, and then described how it was their interpretation of running a clinic that they have to go to every house on a regular rotation, and talk about immunizations, and talk about good health habits and hygiene, and continually do that," de Blasio said.
"This was a long time ago in a very poor country in a very poor city in a clinic that had nothing that anyone in this room would recognize as sufficient resources, and I thought somehow despite all the challenges, they understand that the most elemental thing is to bring the health care to the people."
De Blasio made his remarks at a standing-room-only memorial lecture on health issues at New York Methodist Hospital, part of a series established in honor of Dr. Joseph Silver, who was the brother of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
(Silver was in attendance, with other members of his family; the rest of the 100 or so attendees, for the most part, were doctors, many in white lab coats, with stethoscopes draped around their necks.)
Talking about the city's failings in getting medical help to people in public housing after Hurricane Sandy, de Blasio said that the city should "crystallize the lessons" of the storm.
"As humans we have an uncanny ability to think about things when they're happening very clearly and then immediately forget them because something else came up," he said.
De Blasio, who noted that his two children were born at the hospital, cited Monday's article in New York Times which focused on the city's delivery of services to poor residents after the storm, and said, "We need to take the government to the people ... We need to literally, literally, knock on every door. We have to knock on every door and then come back and knock on the door again until the situation is resolved."
"This could be that decisive moment when we say time for a different interpretation of how we approach public health in a crisis, or it could be a forgotten moment, because in six months or a year we don't see the physical scars as much, we go on with our lives, and we assume the next 100-year storm is in 100 years," he said.
De Blasio made a point of saying that he doesn't actually believe, as officials like his old boss Andrew Cuomo have suggested, that 100-year storms will now become "commonplace."
"I don't believe that at all," de Blasio said. "I do believe we have to be ready, because of climate change and other factors, for more such occasions."
Despite de Blasio's criticism of the administration's storm response, he drew praise from the hospital's president Mark Mundy, for not giving a more overtly political speech.
"Just one observation, and I think it adds to the grace and dignity of Bill, in your talk—unless you've been living in a cave for the last four years, you may be aware that Bill is also interested in a higher office, and Mayor Bloomberg, I don't think is going to run again," Mundy said. "And great credit to you, sir, you never brought it up, and I think it just shows the respect that you have for Dr. Silver, for elected officials, for this hospital, and for this event. So great credit to you, sir, let me compliment you, and thank you again."