Tag Archive | "Bedford Park"

Drugs, Gangs, Blamed for N. Bronx Homicides

Placards mark the scene of a shooting in Bedford Park. (Photo: Nathaniel Herz | City Beats)

A Bronx man was shot and killed early Saturday in the borough’s Bedford Park neighborhood, the third homicide in the New York Police Department’s 52nd Precinct in the last eight days.

Edwin Valdez, 21, died in transit to St. Barnabas hospital Saturday morning, after police found him at 4:30 a.m. near the corner of Bainbridge Avenue and 199th Street with a single gunshot wound near his left armpit.

No arrests have been made, and an investigation is ongoing.

The shooting had stemmed from an argument, but the motive remains unknown, police said.

Valdez had been arrested six times—most recently in October—on charges that included criminal possession of marijuana and possession of a weapon.

Drugs, gangs, and violence have plagued the area for years, but typically farther south, along Valentine Avenue and 194th Street. The block where the shooting took place lies between three apartment buildings and an all-girls Catholic high school, with a senior citizens home nearby.

“This is the best block in the neighborhood,” said Steve Bussell, the vice president of the 52nd Precinct’s Community Council, who lives in an apartment overlooking the scene of the shooting.

By mid-morning Saturday, officers had cordoned off the block, and yellow placards marked a trail of blood leading from the middle of the street to the sidewalk at the corner of Bainbridge Avenue and 198th Street.

Residents said that they had noticed an uptick in crime near Bainbridge Avenue in the past year, including a mugging in which a building superintendent had been beaten badly.

Police said they had not linked Saturday’s shooting with the two other recent homicides, which occurred several blocks away.

But the three incidents nearly doubled the number of homicides that had taken place in the precinct this year, according to police records, as the district’s most recent report shows that just four had been tallied through October 23rd.

On October 29, 59-year-old Bimal Chanda was beaten with a metal object in the stairwell of his apartment complex on 190th Street, police said. He died Wednesday morning at St. Barnabas hospital.

Chanda’s friends told the Daily News that he was in the process of moving his wife and 16-year-old daughter to Parkchester because of crime in his neighborhood.

On November 1, police found a 35-year-old black man with multiple stab wounds in the lobby of a building on Grand Street. The man, whose identity has not been released, was also pronounced dead at St. Barnabas Hospital.

Residents said that gangs—including the Crips, Bloods, and a group called Dominicans Don’t Play, or DDP—were responsible for most of the crime in the area.

While problems have been more common farther south, drugs and violence have crept north from 194th Street, according to Monsignor John Jenik, the pastor of Our Lady of Refuge Parish on 196th Street.

“Little by little, it started to move up,” he said. “Now it can pop up anywhere.”

The police “try the best with the resources they have,” but “their numbers are down,” Jenik said.

Violence has been driving people from the neighborhood, residents said.

“We’ve had a lot of people move out because of it,” said Tom Gardella, who has been the superintendent of a building one block away from the shooting for 28 years.

In response, his complex had recently installed security cameras, Gardella said.

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North Bronx Dentists Feel Bite from Medicaid Cuts

In 2009, after five years of working as an associate dentist in Queens, Niulka Sanchez had saved up enough money to open a practice of her own. She took out a loan, renovated an old bar in the Bronx’s Norwood section, and brought in her cousin and aunt to work the front desk.

By last spring, two years after opening, the practice was turning a profit, according to Andina Ortiz, Sanchez’s cousin and office manager. For the three family members, all Dominican immigrants, it seemed as if they were on their way to achieving the American dream.

Niulka Sanchez's dental practice in the Norwood section of the Bronx. (Photo: Nathaniel Herz | City Beats)

Now, however, the business’s future has been cast into doubt. Since May, the state has cut Medicaid payments made to dentists throughout New York, and dental practices around the north Bronx have been grappling with the effects. To make up for the lost revenues, some dentists say they have been working longer hours. Another said he feels pressure to jam more procedures into an already-busy day. And at Sanchez’s practice, where revenue is down by 20 percent, Ortiz has been trying to recruit new patients with better-paying insurance plans.

But if those efforts aren’t successful, offices could be forced to close, or move.

For some Medicaid dentists, the cuts have been “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” according to Judi Shub, assistant executive director at the New York State Dental Association. The cuts reduced payments for most of the bread-and-butter procedures done by Medicaid dentists, Shub said.

They were just one portion of more than $2 billion sliced this spring from New York’s Medicaid program, which provides insurance for residents who can’t otherwise afford it. The cuts to Medicaid were in turn part of a larger effort by Governor Andrew Cuomo to close a state budget gap of $10 billion.

The degree of the cuts varied widely for different procedures, according to figures published on a Department of Health website. Dentists now get $45 for a teeth cleaning, compared to $58 last year, for example, and the payment for one type of filling was dropped from $106 to $82. Sealants went from $43 to $35.

Payments for some kinds of treatments were increased. But the intent of the changes was to cut $60 million in dental expenses, according to New York Department of Health spokesman Jeffrey Hammond.

In an email, Hammond wrote that the cuts consisted of less than 10 percent of the state’s total dental spending under Medicaid, and he added that the DOH would be “looking carefully at any changes” as it carries out the cuts.

“We will continue to track trends, but at this point, we have found no decline in access to services,” Hammond wrote.

In the north Bronx, though, dentists and office managers said that their businesses have been suffering. Since the cost of treatment didn’t change when the cuts went into effect, the difference has come largely from their profits, according to Robert Yeshion, executive director of the Bronx Dental Society.

“You cut the guys’ fees—their overhead doesn’t go down,” he said. “They’re making less money.”

In an interview in his office on East 204th Street in Norwood, dentist Shahnaaz Gill said he felt pressured to pack more patients into his tight schedule—and he was worried that unscrupulous dentists might end up working too quickly, and cutting corners.

“The quality of care suffers,” Gill said. “It’s human nature. For me, time is money.”

For Gill, the cuts have been a “huge blow,” he said: 40 percent of his patients were on Medicaid plans that

Shahnaaz Gill's office, also in Norwood. (Photo: Nathaniel Herz | City Beats)

were affected.

At Laser Dentistry for Children, in neighboring Bedford Park, the situation isn’t as dire. There, according to Office Manager Maritza Duran, only 10 percent of the patients’ are on the Medicaid plans adjusted in May.

But still, Lauritzen said, her office has been staying open later—from 12 to 7 p.m. on school days, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays—in an attempt to recoup some of the lost revenue.

“You have to compensate one way or another,” she said.

According to Lauritzen, the cuts haven’t directly affected her patients. As she put it, nobody pays attention, “as long as they’re getting free treatment.”

But if offices are forced to move or close, problems could start to trickle down to Medicaid recipients—especially if they can no longer find dentists who accept their insurance, Shub said.

At Sanchez’s office, Ortiz, the office manager, has been trying to boost revenues by recruiting new patients with private insurance, which pays better than Medicaid.

The office’s front door is plastered with stickers advertising the acceptance of different insurance plans, and its two windows feature a pair of neon signs shaped like smiling teeth.

For Sanchez, 40, there’s more at stake than the survival of her business. By siting her office in Norwood, not far from her home—and by taking Medicaid patients—she has been able to conduct most of her work in Spanish, her native tongue.

“It’s better for me to treat people in my language,” she said. “When you live in a place, you identify with these people.”

If the business fails, Sanchez said, she would have to go back to working at another practice as an associate dentist. Moving the office, she added, is out of the question.

“I cannot afford to make that investment again,” she said.

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