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City Hospital System Takes on Migrant Emergency — With Blank Check From Mayor

A newly unveiled memo details unusual and obscure arrangement for more than $100 million in spending on hotels and health care.

February 24, 2023 Katie Honan and Gabriel Poblete, The City
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Logo for THE CITYThis article was originally published on by THE CITY

Mayor Eric Adams has handed to the city’s public hospital system control of emergency relief operations for asylum seekers, an internal city memo reveals — bypassing standard oversight procedures for government contracts while spending nearly $100 million on hotel rooms.

An Oct. 13, 2022, memorandum of understanding between City Hall and the New York City Health + Hospitals Corporation — posted to the nyc.gov website in response to THE CITY’s inquiries — details procedures for what Adams calls Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers, or HERRCs.

“H+H shall be responsible for the management and operation of the HERRCs,” the memo states. For its part, City Hall committed to reimburse H+H for the costs of building and operating the centers, which also include the now-dismantled barracks-style shelter at Randall’s Island and a space at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook.

It is signed on behalf of H+H by Dr. Ted Long, a senior vice president who heads the city’s COVID testing and treatment operation. Signing on behalf of the mayor was Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Anne Williams-Isom.

Health + Hospitals board meeting materials show that H+H President and CEO Mitchell Katz last fall authorized more than $92 million in spending on Manhattan hotels through spring 2023: $40 million for ROW nyc, $20 million for the Watson, $28 million for the Stewart and $5.8 million for the Wolcott.

H+H is also paying to use a Holiday Inn in Lower Manhattan, as revealed in the ongoing bankruptcy case of the hotel’s operator. That HERRC opened earlier this month.

Huron Consulting Services, LLC — a firm that was also involved in H+H’s COVID testing operations — is getting up to $18.5 million to help open the migrant housing sites. Rapid Reliable Testing, LLC, got approved for an $11.5 million contract for medical triage.

Transfer Away From Oversight

The city’s Office of Management and Budget has agreed to “provide H+H with sufficient revenue through the HERRC MOU with the mayor’s office to cover HERRC expenses,” according to Health + Hospitals board meeting minutes for January.

Hours after this article published, Jonah Allon, a spokesperson for the mayor, said: “Since the beginning of this humanitarian crisis, New York City has mounted a multi-agency response to ensure we are meeting our moral obligations and providing compassionate, comprehensive care to those arriving in our city, and NYC Health + Hospitals has been key in that response from the start.” He did not answer THE CITY’s request for the amount of money transferred to the hospital system so far.

A spokesperson for Health and Hospitals also did not provide an on-the-record comment for the story, but offered information about its system, including the temporary housing H+H provides to people who are experiencing homelessness and need medical care.

Unlike city agency contracts, which must be approved by the city comptroller, H+H spending is overseen by the hospital system’s board of directors and does not undergo comptroller review.

Asked by THE CITY about the blank check Adams has given the hospital system for emergency migrant housing, a spokesperson for Comptroller Brad Lander, Naomi Dann, said the office has “requested detailed information on their contracts for HERRC operations.” Lander will weigh in during the city budget process now underway.

Migrant Database

According to City Hall, more than 47,100 migrants have arrived in New York City from the U.S. border with Mexico since last summer, and more than 29,700 asylum seekers remain living in HERRCs and city homeless shelters.

Some HERRCs have been flashpoints for controversy, including the large men’s facility at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. Dozens of migrants protested their move from Manhattan’s Watson Hotel to the remote Red Hook site.

The mayor’s Office of Emergency Management is in charge of developing policies and procedures for the relief centers — but it’s H+H that’s officially in charge of the work, the memorandum shows.

H+H manages an intake process that involves three teams of staff. Two teams handle intake and bed assignments. A third team is dedicated to “reconnections” for those who want them — booking transportation to “outside of the city” within four days of arriving in New York City. This team also can arrange transfer to a homeless shelter operated by the Department of Homeless Services; it also keeps tabs on all migrants who choose to leave a HERRC on their own.

The city Office of Technology and Innovation, meanwhile, is assigned with developing a sprawling information database on the migrants, the memo shows.

Data the city is collecting includes whether the migrant has a pet or food allergies, what state they have arrived from, and details on “reticketing” to friends and family elsewhere in the U.S. — including the cost of transportation and whether it is a train, charter bus, plane or ferry.

The intake officials also ask about immigration court appearances and the name and address of a sponsor, if they have one.

Shelter Spending

HERRC procedures, first made public in City Limits this fall, include a requirement that at intake all migrants sign a “consent document” — offered in English, Spanish or Haitian Creole — that agrees to share personal information with staff and acknowledges that the facility is a temporary shelter they may be asked to leave at any time.

Confidentiality rules prohibit sharing the information except to improve services or “as otherwise required by law,” the document states.

Adams has said the city’s cost to shelter, feed and assist asylum-seekers will be more than $4 billion altogether. That multiyear figure also includes long-term shelter provided by the Department of Homeless Services, which operates 87 emergency shelters also being used to house migrants. DHS has promised a hotel trade association up to $275 million for room rentals, the New York Post reported last month.

Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director for policy at the nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless, noted that her group raised concerns about oversight when the HERRCs first opened. DHS homeless shelters are subject to state supervision as well as legal settlements — the H+H shelters aren’t.

The Coalition continues “to have concerns about potentially disparate standards between the two,” she said, adding that if the HERRCs were part of the DHS shelter system, “they would be very clearly contending with state oversight in a fashion that’s different from how they’re contending with them now.”

Happy for Health Care

Migrants interviewed by THE CITY at the Manhattan hotels say they’re grateful for getting hooked up with health care as well as housing.

Jaritsa Chicaiza, 20, who has lived at the ROW nyc hotel with her husband and 3-year-old son for two months since traveling from Ecuador, said that they have already received health insurance.

“Things have been good here. They give the children good things so they can be healthy,” she said. “Here they give us all the help we need.”

Carmen Zavala, 46, traveled from Peru and is staying at the Holiday Inn in the Financial District.

After telling intake workers she was dealing with depression, she was sent to a nearby hospital in an Uber and was set up on a virtual call there with a mental-health provider.

She cited the instability in her country and a custody battle over her son as two of the main factors for her depression, but was thankful for the help from the city.

“Being here, I’m being treated wonderfully, I have a good bed, on a good floor, every day they ask me how I’m doing,” she told THE CITY.  “What a beautiful country.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.


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