Re: Hospital Records / Cause of Death - NYC #general

Ira Leviton

Dear Cousins,

Sue Jurisz asked (to paraphrase),

I found an e-mail in the Discussion Group archives that stated: 1)
Brooklyn Jewish Hospital is now part of the Interfaith Medical Center and
2) Medical records in New York are only kept for 50 years. Is this a hard
and fast rule? Should I call the hospital, or should I call the
Department of Health?

I answer

Yes, Brooklyn Jewish Hospital is now part of Interfaith. Note that
this was a different hospital than Kingsbrook Jewish, which still exists.

The law for retention of medical records in New York State is that they
are required to be kept for only *seven* years, not 50, except for
pediatric records, which have to be held either for seven years or until
the patient turns 18 (whichever is later). It is very unlikely that any
hospital keeps records much beyond 7 years, since they usually have to
store older records off site, and they have to pay for this storage.

It's even less likely that old hospital records still exist if the
hospital moved, as is the case with Brooklyn Jewish.

Nevertheless, sometimes medical records are kept for a long time, even
when the person is known to be deceased. In New York State this has
perhaps most notably been done by some mental/psychiatric hospitals, which
have held onto them for decades, for reasons that I can't fathom.

For individual records, the N.Y.C. Department of Health has only death
certificates (1949 and afterward), and medical examiner records (I'm not
sure when they start, but I believe it's the 1960's) for suspicious
deaths, accidents, suicides, poisonings, etc. Older death certificates
and medical examiner records are at the Municipal Archives. The
Department of Health does not have medical records of any individual.

Regarding the cause of death, the death certificate is frequently
inaccurate. Decades ago, potential reasons for this included the doctor
not knowing the cause of death at the time of death but still having to
state it, and the general ignorance of medicine compared to nowadays (many
diseases were nearly or completely unknown). Finally, there was laziness
with the paperwork -- this document was not very important to doctors, and
some causes of death were not "permitted" for statistical purposes. For
instance, in New York State a person is allowed to die of lobar pneumonia,
but not pneumonia. Many doctors used the same causes of death for nearly
all their patients so that they didn't have to redo the death certificate.

Ira Leviton
New York, N.Y.

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