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Bronx and Brooklyn Health Care at the Starting Line

by Jennifer Brookland

As hard-fought health insurance legislation comes across President Obama’s desk, the economic problems of the Bronx are apparent in the places people get their insurance. One in five people in the Bronx were on Medicaid as of 2008, the highest percentage of all the boroughs, according to city data. About 180,000 people were enrolled in the program, which provides health care to those who can’t afford to pay their medical bills. New York State overall had a higher percentage of Medicaid recipients- about 20 percent- compared to the nationwide level of 15 percent. About 43 percent of Bronx residents got their insurance privately through their employers or themselves- well below the state average. More than half the population of New York State has private insurance. About one out of six people in the Bronx were insured through Medicare, the federally administered health care program for people over the age of 65. With about 17 percent of people in the Bronx without any health insurance, 158,000 residents were left uninsured in 2008, according to the latest available data.

With 11 hospitals and several clinics, health care is big business in the Bronx. But unemployment, poverty, street crime and low education makes the Bronx the unhealthiest borough in New York City, according to a health study released last month by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Brooklyn’s health care situation was similar to the Bronx’s. A website called “Brokelyn” joked about scoring antibiotics on Craigslist and trolling the black market for insulin. Under 45 percent of insurance came from the private sector and about 16 percent of residents received Medicare as of 2008. Brooklyn had the second highest percentage of residents in the city who received Medicaid because their income level was too low for them to buy other insurance. However, with one in six Brooklynites, or 277,000 people uninsured, the borough actually has a lower rate than the national average of 17.4 percent of people with no coverage.

Posted in Health Care Reform, Special Reports0 Comments

Students Fight Proposed Campus Relocation

The students of University Heights High School had a clear message for the Department of Education representative at Tuesday night’s public hearing about the proposed relocation of their school: “We are not moving.”

Department of Education and local representatives listen as students and community members urge them to leave University Heights High at its current location. (Photo: Sonia Dasgupta/The Bronx Ink)

Department of Education and local representatives listen as students and community members urge them to leave University Heights High at its current location. (Photo: Sonia Dasgupta/The Bronx Ink)

The refrain was echoed by several students who took to the microphone to try to convince the small panel before them that the high school should not be forced to move from the Bronx Community College campus, part of the City University of New York (CUNY) network.

The school, which has been on the campus since 1986, is scheduled to be relocated to the South Bronx High School campus, where it would share space with Mott Haven Village Preparatory High School. But students, administrators and parents at University Heights have organized to fight the move – about three and a half miles away and to another school district – citing concerns about the school’s culture, safety and students’ commutes.

The college says that it needs the high school’s classroom space to serve the college’s growing student body. Enrollment has increased 46 percent from fall 2001 to fall 2009. In December of 2008, CUNY asked the Department of Education to look for a new location for University Heights, in anticipation of the trend continuing. And the college’s enrollment continues to climb: the figure increased by 1,500 students from last spring to this semester.

Judy Wexler, assistant principal at University Heights, said she was happy for the college that its enrollment has grown. But she said she was frustrated that there had been no talk of a compromise – such as using the high school classrooms for late afternoon and night classes only. “It’s not feeling like it’s an open dialogue,” she said.

At the meeting Tuesday night, she implored the Board of Education to find a way to keep the school in its current location until the college’s construction of a new building is complete, two years from now.

University Heights, which serves 450 students and has received A’s on its last two report cards, was founded with the idea that a presence on a college campus would help make college seem like a realistic and attainable option for its students. Some students are even able to take college courses while still in high school.

Multiple students spoke Tuesday night about the positive message that being on a college campus had sent to them, contrasting that with the new location: less than half a mile up the road from a juvenile detention center. That sends a message “that the next step is jail,” Maria Ruiz, a senior, said after the meeting.

Other students worried more about the safety of the proposed location, some recounting stories of gunshots and gang violence in the South Bronx that they didn’t have to worry about on a college campus. “When we go up those steps, we don’t have to worry about our cell phones or iPods” getting stolen, said junior Aurelis Troncoso.

But Troncoso’s biggest concern about her school’s future is whether she’ll be able to continue to attend. Right now she lives close enough to the school that she can walk if need be. If the school moves to a new location, she’d need to take a bus and two trains to get there. And with the transit authority getting rid of student MetroCards, she doesn’t know if she’d be able to afford the trip; her mother is an unemployed single parent.

Wexler is hopeful though, that even if the school is forced to move, the vast majority of student will continue to attend.

Although the speakers Tuesday night were mostly students, representatives from elected officials and from the teachers’ union also made appeals for the relocation plans to end. The students have set up meeting with council members and written hundreds of letters. And many of them remained optimistic that their voices would be heard in the end.

“I’m always hopeful of everything. I don’t think it’s over until it’s over,” junior Tyriq Greene said. “I don’t have money. All we have are words and actions.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Education, Northwest BronxComments Off on Students Fight Proposed Campus Relocation

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