The budget for the NFP site in Brooklyn comes from city and federal funds, plus money from the Robin Hood Foundation, and the site is managed by SCO, a social-service agency with a longtime presence in Bed-Stuy. Its office is two blocks from the Herkimer Street apartment where, in November, 16-month-old Dahquay Gillians died, drowning in the bathtub while his mother listened to CDs in an adjoining room. It was the first in what has become an awful series of child-abuse deaths this winter. If an NFP nurse had met Dahquay’s mother four years earlier, when she was pregnant for the first time, perhaps more than one life could have been saved.
So why isn’t NFP spreading farther and faster across the city? The chronic shortage of nurses, a problem afflicting plenty of places besides New York, is one major reason; since NFP hires only experienced nurses with advanced degrees and advanced empathic skills, its recruiting is even tougher. Another hazard is the entrenched social-service agencies that view NFP as a threat to their government stipends. The politics of Brooklyn’s social-service funding is “a viper’s nest,” says one city councilman. “There’s plenty of room at the table for many different programs, and it’s key that we support each other,” Kaplan says. “But the city can’t do everything, and we need to focus on those programs that have been proven to work.”
Bloomberg has increased spending on NFP from $1 million last year to $2.5 million in 2006, with some of the money going toward opening a new site in the Bronx in April. But that’s not nearly enough to attract the necessary number of nurses, who can make far more than the NFP salary of $60,000 a year working in private hospitals; the Bed-Stuy program, nearing its maximum of 100 clients, is searching for four additional nurses. NFP has enjoyed bipartisan support in other states, but it’s begging for a champion in New York’s congressional delegation, from either party. “Hillary Clinton spoke at our national symposium two years ago,” says Geri Summerville, who helps oversee NFP in New York. “Of course, she’s got a lot on her plate, but we’d love to see her get more behind the program in New York City.”
First Lady Clinton once attempted to reform the entire American health-care system and was caricatured as an extremist. Steering money to NFP would seem a much easier task. But we live in a country that would rather react to crises than prevent them, especially in health care. If Senator Clinton helped change that attitude, she’d be a real radical.