Groundbreaking for the New Queens Health Center Takes Place

Hotel Voice, Spring 2020

The groundbreaking for the new Queens Health Center took place on January 15. When it opens in 2021 it will be the most advanced facility of its kind, surpassing even the Brooklyn Health Center, which has drawn rave reviews from members and medical professionals alike.

Present for the groundbreaking were Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council President Corey Johnson, City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and other representatives of New York City government, the Hotel Association and the union.

The ceremony was opened by Dr. David Jacobson, the CEO of the union's benefit funds. Jacobson praised the hard work of his predecessor, Dr. Robert Greenspan, who was present for the event. Greenspan was instrumental in the design of the Brooklyn Health Center and also had a hand in the design of the new Queens facility before he retired in December after four extraordinary decades of service to Hotel Trades Council members and their families.

Hotel Association President Vijay Dandapani thanked the elected officials for attending and noted that the project has been made possible by the labor-management relationship of the Association and HTC. "This relationship did extremely well in designing and building the Brooklyn Health Center and this Health Center will take it to another level," he said.

In his remarks HTC President Peter Ward paid tribute to Dr. Greenspan. "Under Dr. Greenspan's leadership our healthcare system has risen to new heights," Ward said. "It has been recognized all over the U.S. with healthcare experts from other cities coming to our facilities to learn how we deliver our services to members and their families. I want to thank Dr. Greenspan for making our healthcare system a first class operation and for all he has done for our members and their families."

Ward also thanked the Hotel Association, saying, "We wouldn't be here today without their cooperation and their partnership." Ward expressed appreciation to the elected officials present, adding that they were friends and allies that shared the union's belief that healthcare is a human right. He noted that Queens has the largest number of immigrants of any county in the entire U.S. "This is the true melting pot," he said. "A majority of our membership lives in Queens. They were welcomed to our city and into our union, and they found homes and schools and places of worship here. I'm very proud that this new health center will care for the people that make our city work and that make the important hotel and tourism industry what it is. It is very gratifying to know that they and their families will be served so well in a spectacular facility like this will be."

At the end of his remarks Ward introduced Mayor Bill de Blasio.

De Blasio began by jokingly saying this was a rare occasion when Queens surpassed Brooklyn, where he and Ward both grew up. Turning to a more serious issue, de Blasio reported that he has toured the Brooklyn Health Center and remains quite impressed with the quality of the healthcare members and their families receive.

"That Brooklyn Health Center shows that with all the problems our country has with healthcare there are real solutions," the Mayor said. "And now Peter Ward is telling us the new Queens Health Center is even going to be better. That's amazing!"

De Blasio said that he has observed that Peter Ward is always giving credit to the working men and women who are HTC members and that he always gives credit to the professionals like Dr. Greenspan and Dr. Jacobson that he works with.

"The truth is that these things happen because there is a visionary leading the Hotel Trades Council," the Mayor said. "A visionary is someone who believes something can change even when others don't see it. A lot of visionaries have the vision but don't know how to do it. Peter does know how to do it. He knows how to get things done and so many people have benefited from this. They've gotten the healthcare they need, and the wages and benefits they deserve!"

De Blasio also thanked Ward and the union for helping to get initiatives like pre-K enacted. He thanked Dr. Jacobson and Vijay Dandapani for their work and directly addressed Dr. Greenspan.

"Dr. Greenspan? Amazing!" the Mayor said. "We're here today also because of your great work and we are very grateful."

The Mayor concluded by thanking Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council President Corey Johnson, City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and the other government representatives present for "believing that healthcare is a human right just like the HTC believes," adding, "there are a lot of debates in our country about healthcare and some elected officials actually want to reduce it. All those debating about healthcare should come here and see what the Hotel Trades Council has done. Congratulations to all!"

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said he was happy to be present "to celebrate this extraordinary accomplishment." He said that while Peter Ward might be known as a hard bargainer for great contracts, he does more than protect workers and ensure their wages and benefits. "He's a developer," Stringer said. "And there is a healthcare model being built here that should be replicated everywhere." The Comptroller ended his remarks by congratulating the union and the Hotel Association and saying, "I recommend that all the presidential candidates come and see what is being done here!"

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told everyone present about a day in October of 2004 when he was 22 years old. He went to have a physical and two days later found out he was HIV positive. He soon lost his job and his health insurance, and he didn't know where he was going to go to find a specialist and get the prescription drugs he needed. But he found a community healthcare center in Chinatown that ended up getting him through those difficult days. Five years later, Johnson reported, he decided to get sober. "I've just celebrated 10 and a half years clean of drugs and alcohol, which is my biggest accomplishment in life."

Johnson said he was insured at the time and was able to get what he needed.

"Still," he said, "the system is broken. Even here in New York City, where we have some of the best hospitals and some of the best community health centers we still have a broken system. But when you walk into the building that will be built here, and I felt it when I walked into your Brooklyn Health Center, you will feel like you've walked into a healthcare Utopia, a place that you didn't know was possible, a place where you might see all of your doctors and get your prescriptions and be in and out in an hour and in an atmosphere where they know your name and where they really care for you. I salute you for that!"

City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the 26th CCD, the home of the Queens Health Center, had some amusing remarks.

"Now that the Mayor has departed let me say that I have always believed Queens is better than Brooklyn," he said to great laughter.

Turning serious, Van Bramer said, "I've always been proud of this facility because it's in my district, I live just eight blocks away, When this new building goes up it will be beautiful for Queens Blvd. and our neighborhood. I've also believed that good architecture can bring dignity to the people who enter it. It's appropriate that working people, many of them immigrants, who work in our city's hotels, know when they enter this building that they matter. It's appropriate that we are showing them and the world that they deserve nothing but the very best."

Van Bramer concluded by telling about a recent weekend that he spent in a Manhattan hotel. There, he met a Bangladeshi immigrant waiter who told Van Bramer he had come to the U.S. at the age of 17 over 30 years ago and that the best thing that ever happened to him was getting a job and joining a union, the Hotel Trades Council. That member told Van Bremer that because of his HTC membership he makes a great living, he bought a house, and he sent his children to college.

"That's the power of the Hotel Trades Council," Van Bremer said. "It's a great and mighty and powerful union, and I congratulate all of you on the groundbreaking for your new health center." .

The architectural company chosen for the design of the new Queens Health Center is Gensler NYC. Spearheading Gensler’s work on the project as head architect is Jim Crispino, who had a major hand in the design of the Brooklyn Health Center.

The construction company that will build the new Queens Health Center is Suffolk NYC, whose impressive list of projects includes Boston Children’s Hospital, Hudson Exchange West in Jersey City, NJ, and Bethyl Woods Center for the Arts in Bethyl, NY, among others. The new Queens Health Center will be built with union labor.

With a total of 87,000 square feet, the new Queens Health Center will be more than 60% larger than the current facility. There will be 30 dental chairs, and all of them will have floor-to-ceiling window views providing natural light to supplement the ultra-modern lighting that will be found throughout the building.

More than 500 square feet will be added to the size of the pharmacy in the new facility, with an improved layout for better workflow and an additional station to expedite checkout.

The new Queens Health Center will be located next door to the current facility. The current Queens Health Center will continue serving members and their families up until the day the new one opens in 2021.