Child Death Rate In Brooklyn: The Highest in Any City 1900

Brooklyn Has No Corps of Physicians to Visit the Sick in Poor Districts
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A physician who has a large practice among the poor and who has made a careful study of the mortality statistics of Brooklyn as compared with other cities of the country made the alarming statement this morning to a reporter of the Eagle that the juvenile mortality in Brooklyn was greater per capita in the summer than in any other city in the United States. The fact that Brooklyn has always been considered an especially healthy place according to the records of mortality, led the reporter to question the doctor's statement.

"I mean it," he said. " It is not a statement that is made without foundation, for the records and I will produce them if you give me time will prove it. And there is a strange thing about the matter, too. The death rate of Brooklyn during the summer months is greater among children than in other cities while in the winter time. When one would suppose that the death rate in such a place as Brooklyn is greatest, it is less than in the other large cities. Now the contrary, you would expect, would be the case.

"Brooklyn is subjected to climatic conditions that would seem to favor life for the children in summer and death to their elders in winter. It is surrounded practically by the sea and the strong sea air one would expect would vivify the children in the summer months. The contrary is the case, while the deaths in winter from pneumonia, phthisis and kindred winter maladies are not so great as in Manhattan, for instance. But Manhattan has a much lower juvenile death rate than Brooklyn in the summer months. That was shown last year when children were dying in Brooklyn by the hundred, while in Manhattan there was little above the normal juvenile mortality.

"Is it possible," asked the reporter, "that the condition is due to the fact that there is not the same systematic examination of the conditions in the tenement houses in Brooklyn as in Manhattan?"

"I cannot say that," said the doctor in reply. "for I do not know what steps are taken in Brooklyn for a thorough inspection of the tenement houses in the borough in the summer months nor do I know much about what the summer corps of physicians did in the past. But I do know that the appointment of an intelligent and conscientious corps of doctors to guard the children would be not only good for the reputation of the borough but would be a humane measure. I know that there was such a corps in Manhattan last year, but Brooklyn, in spite of the fact that the newspapers were calling the attention of the people over here to the awful mortality among the babies, was left without such a corps.

"It is the same old complaint. Brooklyn can get very little from the powers over there. The members of the Board of Health can find plenty of fault, as they did last year, but they are not willing to offer any assistance. I do not know what will be done this year. I see that the distribution of Pasteurized milk is going on under the direction of a doctor of the Health Department, but the money for the work is entirely subscribed by private parties. That is all right of course, and the work is bearing good fruit. It was beneficial among the babies last year, although it has started at the eleventh hour, but the Health officials should go further.

"I saw in the Eagle last night that the infant mortality during the recent heated spell had been terrible. There are ways that intelligent sanitarians could adopt to stop this. There is no excuse in this enlightened age for such a terrible condition in any civilized community. A perfect and systematic inspection of the tenement house, medical superintendence and examination of the children and the free distribution of medicines and sterilized milk are what might be suggested. Certainly the city, which is wealthy enough to waste money for the enrichment of favored contractors and politicians, should divert some of its money into this channel. It would be charitable and just as constitutional as some other expenditures that are made by the Health Board."

"Do you think, doctor." asked the reporter," That the establishment of a corps of summer physicians would in a measure meet the case? Is it likely that the jobs would be given to a number of young doctors who would regard the appointment as something of a political snap and that they would neglect their duty and draw their pay?"

The physician, who declined the use of his name in the interview, thought for a minute or two and replied:

"There is always a danger of that. I was at one time on the summer corps of Brooklyn in the old days when the affairs of the city were managed in Brooklyn. I know that some of us thought that it was something of a political sinecure a job to tide us over the summer when our very few patients were out of town. I know that I started in the work with enthusiasm, but I found that the people were not with us. As soon as the poor in the tenement houses knew that we were from the Health Department they seemed to resent our interference.

"It was the same old formula in nearly every case. 'Any sick children here?" after a tap at the door. 'Who are you?" from the tenant. 'I come from the Board of Health,' from the doctor. 'Well, we have our own doctor to attend to our children,' that visit. That thing occurred so often that we were frequently discouraged.

"Again, we found that the parents themselves either did not care if their children lived or died or were ignorant of the gravity of the situation. I have seen over and over again where a child was seriously ill that the parents not only did nothing for it, but resented outside interference. While they would not pay for a doctor or buy good nourishing food for their children, they always had the price of a can of beer."

"Is it not a fact that many physicians do much charitable work among the poor in a volunteer way?" asked the reporter.

"No," said the physician. "As a rule, doctors like their own ease too well to interfere where they do not seem to be wanted. I believe that there are several physicians who do something in the way of charitable work among the poor, but compared with the mass of doctors in practice in the cities, these are very few. I have done a little of that myself, but I must confess that it was generally when my attention was called to a specific case by a missionary or charitable visitor. I have also supplied medicines when necessary, but most druggists, when they are told of a case of necessity, are willing to make up the prescriptions gratuitously.

"What we need in Brooklyn is an official corps of doctors who will do their work among the poor conscientiously and not as a matter of form. In Manhattan there are many charitable organizations which attend to just this work and their labors. I believe, have much to do in keeping the death rate of the crowded tenement houses in Manhattan down to a minimum in this weather. There are not so many of these charitable organizations in Brooklyn, and for that reason I think that it is little short of murder for the health officers of the city to neglect the work."

Health Officer Black of Brooklyn was told about the physician's declaration. "Yes," he admitted, "it is true that the mortality among the babies of Brooklyn is greater than in Manhattan. Our general death rate, though, is lower. I am trying to get a corps of physicians appointed for the summer work, but I do not know whether I will be successful. Last year there was a summer corps of physicians for Manhattan, but in Brooklyn there was no provision. Something should be done though, and I agree that an effort should be made, for the condition is serious. The free distribution of sterilized milk is going on satisfactorily. That was something that I wanted to have started early in the summer, and we worked very hard for three weeks to get it into shape."

"Is there any danger that the members of a summer medical corps would regard the work as something of a political sinecure and would neglect their work?" asked the reporter.

"If the work was properly laid out I do not think so" said Dr. Black in reply. "You see, we should have to appoint the men from an eligible list and the chances are that politics would be to a very large degree out of it. We would hold the physicians to their work and I believe the appointment of such a corps would be very beneficial. As I have told you, in the light of the present condition of affairs I will make a strong effort to have money appropriated for the purpose and a corps appointed. It is too bad that we cannot do this work at once, but I believe that the board will make proper provision for a corps of physicians this year. We should have had it last year, but no appropriation was made. This heated spell was sudden and unexpected, but I think we will have a corps that will be ready for the work soon. I am seriously interested in this matter and I shall use every effort to have the corps appointed."

There was a decline in the juvenile death rate today. Up to 11:30 o' clock this forenoon but sixty deaths of children from diseases that are directly traceable to the heat were reported. This brings the death rate among the babies in Brooklyn from causes that might have been prevented by proper work on the part of parents and the health officials to 392 for the week, according to the corrected list.


Website: The History
Article Name: Child Death Rate In Brooklyn: The Highest in Any City 1900
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The Brooklyn Eagle July 19, 1900
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