For anyone who has been a patient in a New York-area hospital or has had a family member there, they are a familiar sight: the volunteers of Satmar Bikur Cholim.
For more than 70 years, the Satmar Bikur Cholim has provided food, company and advocacy for patients, and their organized but volunteer chesed has been a point of pride for the community and a subject of praise from public officials and hospital administrations.
A conflict that the Satmar Bikur Cholim has been having with NYU Langone Medical Center, a world-renowned Manhattan hospital used by many frum Jews, where Bikur Cholim has operated for decades, is therefore surprising.
Reportedly, NYU has refused to continue to allow Satmar Bikur Cholim volunteers to bring food to patients’ rooms or to visit them.
Reuven Guttman, director of Satmar Bikur Cholim Lawrence Division, told Ami that this situation started about half a year ago. Since then, the Bikur Cholim has been quietly negotiating with NYU, but they feel that they have made little progress.
Mr. Guttman said that the hospital’s stated rationales for the ban have changed. Initially, he said, the reason given was for patient security. “We gave the names of our volunteers to them, so they could conduct background checks,” he said. There are just five to six regular volunteers for the organization who visit NYU Langone, so they assumed that the security issue could be resolved.
Soon, longtime Satmar Bikur Cholim volunteer Yocheved L. said, the hospital said that the issue was one of outside food. But she said that volunteers from other organizations have been able to visit patients and bring food without any apparent interference.
However, the sight of a Satmar Bikur Cholim bag is enough to cause guards to stop someone.
In one case, she said, a volunteer was actually visiting her own grandchild, who was a patient in NYU Langone, when she was stopped by a security guard who refused to believe that she was visiting a relative.