Public Comment

Commentary: Take Care of Both Neighborhood and Children

By Elizabeth O’Hanlon Maier
Tuesday February 05, 2008

I’m a resident of North Oakland, and Ms. Roy’s comments in the Daily Planet regarding the expansion of Children’s Hospital are profoundly disturbing to me—not least since I’m also the sister of a little girl who died in childhood of a rare form of cancer that strikes only children (Wilmes’ tumor). Today, thankfully, almost all forms of children’s cancer are treatable. If my sister, Cathy, had been born just a few years later, chances are she’d be alive today. 

So when Ms. Roy talks about “children with cancer,” she’s talking about my family’s experience. Yet, despite having had to watch my sister endure seven surgeries and numerous bouts of radiation and chemotherapy, I still think the plan Children’s Hospital is offering is a bad one. Ms. Roy’s argument amounts to a guilt-trip. She righteously declares that because Children’s Hospital cares for very sick children, those of us who live nearby should just shut up and let the administrative decision-makers at the hospital have their way.  

Yet it’s quite possible to want the best for the sick children at the hospital and want the best for the neighborhood. The problem is that CHO has failed to formulate a plan that takes both needs into account. They imply that the importance of the work they do overrides the needs of the people who live around their hospital. That amounts to bullying—it’s bullying cloaked by moral righteousness, but it’s still bullying. 

That’s simply unacceptable. It is possible to take care of the sick children and take care of the neighborhood. CHO simply needs to think more creatively about how they can re-build their infrastructure without harming the neighborhood in which they do business. (And yes, health care in America is a business, a very big business—even for those corporations that have tax-exempt nonprofit status. The nonprofit hospital that treated my sister sent us bills for years after she had died.) 

Those of us who live here have a right to preserve the qualities that make this a walkable, livable neighborhood. We have moral reasons for our concern, too: the importance of local cultural heritage, wanting our city to remain human-scaled, feeling concerned about how the “ecosystem” of the neighborhood may be harmed. As it happens, I’ve worked in numerous urban hospitals, including Maimonides in Brooklyn and Memorial Sloan-Kettering in Manhattan. It is quite clear to anyone who takes a careful look at the neighborhoods around those hospitals that large institutional structures do harm to surrounding neighborhods. Large scale structures destroy the walk-ability and bike-ability of the neighborhood—surely an important quality to preserve in an age when children’s diabetes rates are skyrocketing from too little walking! 

Let’s not fall into the trap of having the administrators at CHO guilt-trip us into accepting what’s easiest for them. I would wager that the tower plan appeals to their financial officers and decision-makers because it’s the cheapest, easiest way to add beds. But the fact is that Oakland taxpayers already pay HUGE property taxes, yet the city is still struggling to provide adequate schools, police force, etc. There are many pressing needs competing for our dollars. We need to think through decisions carefully, not let the financial decision-makers at CHO run roughshod over our lives and homes. 

It amounts to this: CHO needs to listen to the people who live here. They need to be good neighbors and make the effort to create a plan that respects the lives of those around them. If I put up a 15-foot fence that destroyed my neighbors’ apple tree by blocking the light to her garden, I would be in violation of her rights. I would have done harm to her. So to the bullying voices at Children’s Hospital, I quote the founding principle of the Hippocratic oath: “First, do no harm!” Children’s Hospital Oakland needs to form a “treatment plan” for the problems they are having that does not harm others. It’s that simple.  


Elizabeth O’Hanlon Maier is a North Oakland resident.