While desperate patients packed into New York City’s public hospital ERs or lined up for hours for coronavirus tests, exhausted staffers were frustrated that one top doctor was getting special treatment.
Dr. John McNelis, the chairman of surgery at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, secured a precious ICU bed for a week — even though he wasn’t on a ventilator or intubated — and received kid-gloves care at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, according to outraged workers.
It highlighted the “deep unfairness” between the haves and have nots in the pandemic, one Jacobi health care worker said.
McNelis, 62, ate breakfasts dropped off by his family and picked up by an aide. “There wasn’t much I could eat,” he said. “Kind of the only thing I wanted to eat was a toasted bagel with orange juice.”
His wife — initially not wearing a mask — was allowed to visit even though the state had banned all hospital visitors unless that person was “essential to the care of the patient” or in “imminent end-of-life situations.”
“We didn’t see any other visitors for anyone else,” the insider said.
And in his room in the surgical ICU, it was all hands on deck. Not only did almost every doctor in McNelis’ department show up, but so did the hospital’s top infectious disease doctor and pharmacy specialists, an insider said.
“It was a zoo in there,” the insider said.
The doctor was well enough to post on social media, tweeting on April 8: “Been a bit preoccupied of late. Many observations but few I can discuss.”
McNelis arrived on April 3 at the end of the worst week of NYC’s coronavirus outbreak with admissions to all the city hospitals reaching a high of 10,804 over seven days, city Department of Health statistics show.
Many of the city’s public Health + Hospitals facilities like Jacobi were overwhelmed. On April 2, the hospital system announced that Jacobi would add 265 medical beds and 93 ICU beds in the coming months to handle the patient surge.
Just days earlier, on March 28, angry Jacobi nurses protested outside the hospital demanding more personal protective equipment. Staffers had been asked to use the same N95 mask for five days.
McNelis told The Post that when he arrived at the hospital he had pneumonia and low oxygen saturation and there was fear he was on the verge of a cytokine storm, an immune system overreaction that could prove fatal.
He said he was treated with a trial of the experimental anti-viral medication remdesivir and the arthritis drug tocilizumab. He said he believed he got the same COVID-19 care as others except for being in the ICU.
“You can argue whether I needed the ICU bed or not,” he said. “In terms of the medical care, it was standard.”
McNelis said he was “very thankful for the care” he received.
But some Jacobi staff members found his gesture of gratitude a bit strange and patronizing, insiders said. He gave out $50 American Express gift cards that he had personalized to read “Dr. McNelis Bed 12.”
“What was the purpose of the bed number?” an insider said. “Why not write a nice thank you card?”
“I figured it was the least I could do,” McNelis said. “It was well intended.”
A spokesman for the hospital system said McNelis sought treatment at Jacobi “because he believed in the high quality care his heroic colleagues provide to all New Yorkers. He received the same level of care he showed all his patients during the pandemic. Immediately after recovering, Dr. McNelis returned to work and paid it forward to countless patients in the Bronx.”