N.Y. Jockeys Voice Frustration With Hospital Care

Racing at Aqueduct was canceled Feb. 3 when jockeys refused to ride in the final four races on the card, citing dissatisfaction over the medical care they’d received at nearby Jamaica Hospital.

Racing for Feb. 4 was also canceled that day due to a forecast of extreme winter temperatures.

The jockeys voiced their frustration after two multiple-horse spills at the New York track in a span three days resulted in the deaths of three horses and landed three riders – Jose Santos, Ramon Dominguez, and Norberto Arroyo Jr. – in the hospital. Santos and Dominguez were involved in the same spill Feb. 1, while Arroyo was injured Feb. 3.

Arroyo, with a contusion over his left eye and pain in his left shoulder, asked Emergency Medical Services personnel to take him to North Shore University Hospital, which is also where injured riders are taken when racing is in session at Belmont Park. Instead, he was transported to Jamaica Hospital (about 10 minutes away), where he was treated and released without major injuries.

North Shore University Hospital is a 25-minute drive from the track.

Aqueduct’s Emergency Medical Service supervisor Tony Durante said that the Regional Emergency Medical Services Council of New York requires riders to be taken to the nearest trauma center. The jockeys say they arranged to be sent from Aqueduct to North Shore in the early 1990s.

"We had an agreement that unless it was a life-threatening case where a jockey was unconscious or severely injured, we would be transported to North Shore, which is the hospital that provides the best care," said retired Hall of Fame rider Jerry Bailey. "We have a complete team of doctors who work with us at North Shore. That’s the way it’s been for the past ten years, and unless they’ve changed the laws in the last year or so, there’s no reason for this request to be denied."
According to Santos’ manager, Kelly Weitsma of Equisponse, Santos was taken to Jamaica Hospital on Feb. 1 but checked himself out the following morning and was transferred to North Shore, where doctors determined that his injuries were far more serious than physicians at Jamaica originally diagnosed. She said doctors at Jamaica also confused the jockey’s charts with those of another patient during his stay at the hospital, then sent Santos to North Shore with a halo brace for a neck injury rather than the back brace he required for his spinal injuries.

According to NYRA spokesman Bill Nader, meetings between jockeys and personnel at Jamaica Hospital would be arranged during Aqueduct’s dark days to smooth things over between the two parties. Nader accompanied Arroyo to the hospital and said he was satisfied with the care the jockey received. 

"We want to repair the relationship between the jockeys and staff at Jamaica," Nader said. "If the jockeys aren’t satisfied with the care they’ve received in recent months, we’re going to take that to the hospital and let them know we’re not happy if the jockeys aren’t happy. The main thing is that they get the right care, get released, come back, and go about their business."

"If the riders wish to go to North Shore, barring a life-threatening situation, then the jockeys should go where they’re treated best," said Bailey. "If I were riding right now, I wouldn’t ride unless I could go to North Shore."

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