The Fire Department of New York City is Taking Far Too Long to Respond to My FOIL Request for Ambulance Data
There's no excuse for an 11-month delay.
I’ve had good success overall in obtaining public records related to my inquiry of New York City’s mass casualty event of spring 2020. Agencies have largely complied in a timely and agreeable manner to the many Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests I’ve submitted since 2022. My request to the public hospital agency for death data - which I wrote about previously - is one exception; a request I made to the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) almost a year ago is another.
On March 2, 2023, I asked FDNY for the daily number of ambulance pick-ups from city care homes/congregate settings, hotels, police stations, and jails & prisons to hospitals, between January 1, 2020 and May 31, 2020.
FDNY formally acknowledged the request six days later and said I could expect a response by July 18, 2023.
I received an update on July 18, extending the response to November 28, 2023.
November 28th came and went without a response or update.
When I asked for an update in December, I was told to expect a response “on or about Friday, January 5, 2024.”
Today is January 28, 2024, and I still have not received a response or responsive records.
In my experience, eleven months overdue is within the “normal” range of FOIA requests to some federal agencies (e.g., Department of Justice). It is NOT normal or acceptable for a municipal city agency.
I requested these data for three reasons:
The number of nursing home & long term care facility residents that died in New York City hospitals during the spring 2020 event (or thereafter), regardless of cause, has never been disclosed — despite much attention on former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s so-called “Nursing Home Scandal.”
Official state, city, and federal data show an unbelievable number of deaths occurring in hospitals in a very short timeframe during which third-party witnesses were barred.
Data available via NYC Open Data show a decrease in ambulances transporting patients following the federal 15 Days to Slow the Spread declaration on March 16, 2020.1 The drop corresponds with the drop in visits to Emergency Departments, but is in the opposite direction of 911 call data that show a spike in calls. As far as I can tell, the public ambulance dataset does not provide the places to and from which patients were transported. Ergo, my March 2, 2023 records request. I chose the pick-up locations of care home, jails, etc. on the basis of where a colleague & I suspected the most vulnerable and government-dependent people in the city might have been picked up and taken to hospitals.2
Daily ambulance transfers from certain places to hospitals might provide clues about what (and wasn’t happening) before or during the death event.
I will reach out to FDNY again this week and ask when I can expect the data I requested nearly a year ago.
UPDATE, 2/6/24: I spoke with an FDNY FOIL officer via phone today. She checked on the status of my 11-month-old request and another request that is a month overdue. “We have a new director for our unit,” she said, “and I just let her know that your request is outstanding for a period of time and I gave her this information so that she can start having it processed.” The officer also mentioned being short-staffed. While neither of those reasons is a good excuse for the delays or failures to respond to my email inquiries for updates, I appreciated the staffer’s professionalism during our conversation.
UPDATE: 2/21/24: FDNY has provided an acceptable interim response.