Typically bustling this time of year with winter weary New Yorkers, it’s unusually empty in Central Park. Now, a large portion of the empty space is being filled by a row of 14 stark white medical tents.
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The tents, lined up along the East Meadow near Fifth Avenue and 99th Street across the street from Mt. Sinai Hospital, are being used as an overflow medical center, and were erected in a mere 48 hours by the non-profit charity Samaritan’s Purse. Mayor de Blasio announced the Christian disaster-relief organization would be setting up shop in the park to treat patients with confirmed cases of coronavirus from the hospital, but some critics wonder: will all patients be treated equally?
Samaritan’s Purse is run by Reverend Franklin Graham. The son of well-known preacher Billy Graham, Franklin Graham himself is known for his strong evangelical beliefs, particularly being outspoken against LGTBQ-rights. Samaritan’s Purse, according to its website, requests that all volunteers support the organization’s “Statement of Faith,” which, among the more traditional tenants like believing human life is sacred, includes rejecting the idea of same-sex marriage. Specifically the guidelines state, “We believe God’s plan for human sexuality is to be expressed only within the context of marriage, that God created man and woman as unique biological persons made to complete each other. God instituted monogamous marriage between male and female as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman issued a press release about Samaritan’s Purse’s presence in the city, saying he will be watching to make sure the group does not discriminate “Given [Franklin] Graham’s long history of homophobic comments.”
The notice read, “COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, and neither should Franklin Graham. It’s unacceptable that a New Yorker infected with COVID-19 could be subjected to discriminatory treatment from an organization whose leader calls us ‘immoral’ and ‘detestable.’”
Hoylman added “beggars can't be choosers, New York needs every ventilator we can get.”
In a statement however, Samaritan’s Purse insisted it does not, and will not be discriminatory when it comes to treating Coronavirus patients.
It said, “we have a decades-long track record that confirms just that. We do not make distinctions about an individual’s religion, race, sexual orientation, or economic status. Our doors at the Emergency Field Hospital in the East Meadow are going to be open to all New Yorkers who need our help. We are here to save life, which is precious in God’s sight—and we do it all in Jesus’ Name.”
During a news conference about another temporary hospital going up at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Mayor de Blasio said while he did think the tents were “fantastic,” he is very troubled with some what Reverend Graham has said.
“I said immediately to my team that we had to find out exactly what was happening, was there going to be an approach truly consistent to the values and laws of New York City that everyone would be served and served equally, we have received those assurances from the organization,” he said.
The mayor added that he spoke with the CEO of Mt. Sinai Health System Dr. Kenneth Davis who was adamant that they will only continue their relationship with the organization if those rules are followed, and that they have a written agreement there will be no discrimination whatsoever.
“We’re going to send people over from the Mayor’s office to monitor,” de Blasio added. “So I’m very concerned to make sure this is done right, but if it is done right, of course we need all the help we can get.”
The help comes in the form of 68 beds. Ten of of those beds will serve as an intensive care unit with ventilators. There will be oxygen, water and even a pharmacy on the premises. More than 75 health care professionals and disaster response specialists from across the country will be volunteering.