NYC Health + Hospitals officials joined with the staff at Coney Island Hospital Thursday to unveil a new eleven-story hospital named after the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — complete with a bronze statue of the former Brooklynite in the lobby.
The new hospital is designed to survive a major storm much like Hurricane Sandy, which a decade ago damaged Coney Island Hospital — now known as NYC Health + Hospitals/South Brooklyn Health. The state-of-the-art building was constructed with $923 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and includes a flood-resilient, elevated emergency room, power, heating, cooling, and water systems, among other storm-resilient features.
The hospital is expected to open in early 2023 and is the first new public hospital in New York City since 1982.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life and legacy in Brooklyn
The late justice’s daughter, Jane Ginsburg, joined elected officials and hospital leaders for the ceremony.
Jane, NYC Health + Hospitals/South Brooklyn Health CEO Svetlana Lipyanskaya, and NYC Health + Hospitals CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz pulled off the sheet to reveal the 7-foot bronze statue of Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the start of Thursday’s events. The statue was approved by Ginsburg herself right before her death in 2020.
“Born and bred in Brooklyn, Joan Ruth Bader benefitted from the borough’s public institutions, including its schools, libraries, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music,” her daughter told the crowd. “It is therefore fitting that another Brooklyn establishment dedicated like those of her youth to the public welfare and share in her legacy to striving to the betterment of all.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn in 1933, and grew up in Midwood, several blocks up from where the hospital that bears her name now stands.
She belonged to the East Midwood Jewish Center, attended P.S. 238, and was one of James Madison High School’s many famous alumni. Former classmate Ann Burkhardt Kittner said Ginsburg was “very shy, very self-deprecating, never would think she would ace a test.” But, at the same time, “she had a magnetism, was a popular person without being effervescent.” Ginsburg attended Cornell University and Harvard Law School before beginning her legal career, where women’s rights were her main focus. She was sworn into the Supreme Court in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton.
On Thursday, Ginsburg’s daughter thanked the audience for naming the hospital after her mother. She said the statue was “imposing” and while her mother was renowned for her tiny stature, the creation made her “larger than life.”
“Justice Ginsburg spent her whole career fighting for equity and inequality,” Lipyanskaya said. “Having this brand new, state-of-the-art resilient facility carry her name is our promise to this community that we will continue to strive for excellence for all. Every patient, every family, every time.”
Local Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz called Ginsburg a “hometown icon” and said the new hospital was “a milestone” in the years-long recovery from the damage brought on by Hurricane Sandy.
Assemblymember William Colton was also in attendance at the unveiling, as were representatives for Governor Kathy Hochul, Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, and city councilmember Mercedes Narcisse — nearly all of whom spoke to southern Brooklyn building back bigger and better post-Sandy.
Colton called the new hospital opening “another step of excellence” and something “that is going to benefit us all.”
Specialty equipment, soothing views, and lessons from Hurricane Sandy
The Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hospital includes an emergency department twice the size as the campus’ current one. The new ED is located on the second floor, and ambulances will access it via a ramp — a design choice made to ensure severe storms would not flood the emergency rooms like they would if they were on the first floor.
Also included to help the hospital sustain itself against natural disasters is a four-foot-high wall meant to survive a 500-year storm and double enclosure windows. There are also 80 private medical-surgical beds and 60 behavioral health beds with large windows offering far-reaching views of Brooklyn. The rooms and floors are brightly lit, both artificially and naturally, and they are painted brown, blue, and tan to match the colors of Coney Island beach. This way, according to Christopher Miller, senior director of media relations at NYC Health + Hospitals, patients will think of a relaxing day at the beach and stay calm.
The hospital also will include a surgical suite comprised of eight highly developed operating rooms, robotic surgery, a certified stroke center, comprehensive dental practice, outpatient radiology, and 3D mammography equipment. Specimens can also be sent around the hospital through a small multi-floor reminiscent of a dummy waiter, or as Chief Medical Officer Dr. Terence Brady calls it, a “Star Trek elevator.”
Staff also has the capability to change the pressure of patient rooms digitally, so if anyone is coughing, the cough will go out rather than stay inside the hospital.
Hurricane Sandy struck New York City on Oct. 29, 2012. More than 220 Coney Island Hospital patients had to be evacuated during the storm after nearly a foot of flooding forced the facility to turn off its ground-level generators. The hospital’s emergency department and basement were severely flooded, and workers used flashlights and headlamps to see where they were going throughout the building for a few hours until the water subsided and the generator was turned back on.
The facility’s main building, emergency room, and outpatient services suffered the most damage, and some were even out of service for several months. Radiology equipment also was destroyed.
Though there were no fatalities, the storm left a lasting impact on the hospital — and nearly a decade later, officials are celebrating the new NYC Health + Hospitals/South Brooklyn Health.
“This has been a long-awaited day for the South Brooklyn community,” said Rosanne DeGennaro, chair of South Brooklyn Health’s Community Advisory Board, in a statement. “As a patient at South Brooklyn Health and a community leader, I am proud of the hospital and excited for what will be a bright future ahead.”