Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital
Erick Manheimer, MD
Grand Central Publishing – 2013
by – Sheri de Grom

Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital by Dr. Erick Manheimer is written with passion rooted in medicine anthropology, sociology, psychiatry and a broad range of politics and economics thrown in.

Doctor Manheimer guides the reader through the fabric of medicine practiced at Bellevue Hospital by way of weaving in the stories of twelve patients and the care each receives.

Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital is about more than Bellevue, it’s about people, families, caregivers, cultures, communities, desperation, despair, resilience and hope.

Other reviews of Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital that I’ve read criticize Dr. Manheimer for his detailed descriptions, but it’s those very descriptive narratives that allowed me to be at the doctor’s side as we moved through the hospital handling one crisis after another. Doctor Manheimer’s passion for people and his desire for each patient to receive the best care available are not often found on the administrative side of a hospital.

Doctor Manheimer was Bellevue’s Chief Medical Officer for fifteen years. He acknowledges the soaring cost of medical care, but has never once recommended withholding additional treatment if another more expensive but different modality might have better consequences for a patient.

The twelve patients we meet in Dr. Manheimer’s book include a fallen Wall Street titan, a gang member, victims of domestic violence and street crimes, organ donators, psychotic street people, abused and traumatized children who live a life of emotional chaos, the undocumented and the uninsured—the latter of which compromise a sizable portion of the people served at Bellevue.

Dr. Manheimer utilizes the twelve patients he discusses as springboards to address greater social ills. His book has an overt liberal agenda and I didn’t often agree with his suggested fixes to problems. However, his personal agenda didn’t keep me from being one-hundred percent joyous that he was willing to honestly open the doors of Bellevue in a way that no one has ever done before.

Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital will go on my ten best books I’ve read in 2013. Dr. Manheimer is not only a doctor, but he’s an excellent social commentator. He’s written a book that could be described as tough medicine.

The genre of Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital is memoir but it doesn’t read as a memoir by formula. The everyday tragedies existing at Bellevue are just as deadly as the swelling sea in The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger.

About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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  1. cindy knoke says:

    I will read this. Thank you for posting!

  2. chris13jkt says:

    Seems that it is an interesting book to read. Hope that I can found it in the local book-store here. Thanks for reviewing it, Sheri

    • Chris, Thanks for stopping in and commenting. I found the book interesting but you know me and my concerns regarding health care. Twelve patients is especially readable in that it’s about the patients and the different disciplines of medicine at Bellevue. It’s a shame the book didn’t stay long on the front tables of our bookstore. I wouldn’t have known about the book if it hadn’t been on a front table for me to spot.

  3. bipolarbarbieq says:

    I’ve nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. Check my blog for all the details and hope you accept 🙂

  4. Enjoyed the review, Sheri. I’ve put the book on my list to buy. I hadn’t heard of it before so thank you for getting my attention.

  5. Lynn Garrett says:

    Wow! What a job that man must have. I’m sure it’s an inside look at a wide spectrum of medical practices. Hooray for his honesty.

  6. We will most definitely be getting this to read Sheri!!! Anytime a medical health professional can look at patients as human beings, rather than numbers or illness’ its a breakthrough. I particularly liked the different classes & cases within the twelve patients themselves. Such diversity it must surely be interesting to read how each we’re treated and his medical diagnosis as to their conditions. This sounds intriguing & thank you for the excellent review!!! 😉 Sharing now.

    • Thank you, ladies. Yes, I loved the human element of this memoir and I learned so much about the fascinating health care taking place within the walls of Bellevue. The hospital as a whole is an amazing institution. I would never have known they had to reserve 100 beds at all times for Riker’s Island Prison inmates. Someone that writes horror could take that and run with it – but not me!

  7. I’m with Kim and Ramblingsfromtheleft. My mother grew up in NY, in an orphanage originally, until my grandfather returned from the war. My grandmother died giving birth to my mother on a boat coming from Italy. My mom used to tell us stories about how she was thankful that she was in the orphanage and not at Bellevue, then tell us horror stories about what happened there. Maybe she just wanted us to really appreciate what we had, which wasn’t much. But I admit I haven’t thought about Bellevue and my mothers stories until I read your review. Thanks for sharing. Sheri

    • Sheri – Thanks for stopping by. I always appreciate hearing from you. If nothing else, the book woke me up to what extraordinary work continued at Bellevue and that it was so much more than a mental health facility. It’s interesting to me how we’ve all thought of Bellevue as one big awful mental hospital when nothing could be further from the truth. They have the most advanced trauma units in the United States. And, they are high on the list (as in the top ten) of cutting edge research and treatment. I almost didn’t write a review of this book but now I’m glad I did. If for no other reason than it allowed us to know that Bellevue is far more than we previously thought. Sheri

  8. Elyse says:

    Sounds incredibly interesting. Thanks, Sheri!

  9. gpcox says:

    This sounds interesting. Many years ago, I read a book about an intern at Bellevue Hosp. It was written by Doctor X, because he was still on the staff at the time. It was one of those sleeper books in a book club, but I couldn’t put it down. I’ve been past the hosp. many times when I was younger, but thankfully never entered the place.

    • G.P. – We have those that have expressed Dr. Manheimer wrote a self-serving memoir to further his career both academically and political. Having come from a career of investigating white collar crime with a specialty in medical malpractice and health insurance fraud, I didn’t see a single red flag that Dr. Manheimer did anything other than tell his own story and that of the twelve patients he wanted to profile. If I were to write a memoir, I would select carefully about the cases I led, etc. Sure, he has a personal fortune, but he also spends a considerable amount of his own money on helping his patients. I can’t find fault in that. Once I set aside our political differences, I enjoyed the read.

  10. Dela says:

    Thanks for this beautiful review that reminds that stories we read are actually lives we can relate to. Keep it going, Sheri.

  11. My wife will love this. She’s worked in a health center or hospital her entire career (administrative assistant and medical transcriptionist, respectively). I think I’ll surprise her with this after April 15th for always doing our taxes.

    • Sounds like a plan, John. I don’t envy her the job of doing your taxes. Thank heavens we have a wonderful nephew who does ours every year. We send him the info and he does the rest. He love to tell stories how some of his clients send him the huge rubber maid tubs full of receipts (none of them organized) and then they all have to be sorted out before he can start work on them. At least Tom puts ours on a spread sheet for him. On years when Tom has been sick, I’ve put the receipts in large padded envelopes but they are more or less sorted.

  12. Gallivanta says:

    Interesting to learn more about Bellevue. Wouldn’t it be lovely to hear positive stories about mental health facilities? We often heard the same words as your other commenter “Be careful or you will be sent to …..”

    • Hello Gallivanta – It’s nice to see you hear. As I’ve mentioned to others, Bellevue is not just a mental health hospital. Actually, mental health care there is not much more advanced than it is anywhere else. It’s really interesting to me that the hospital has gotten such a reputation of being nothing but a hell hole for the mentally ill. I think one of the reasons may be is that they get many individuals that are diagnosed criminally insane and that’s always media fodder. Bellevue also is the receiving hospital for all prisoners at Rikers Island (the largest prison population in the United States). It is amazing to me just how much Bellevue has managed to survive.

  13. atempleton says:

    Your review made me want to read Twelve Patients. Not relaxing reading, perhaps, but compelling.

    • Thanks for stopping in. I have a lot of reading to catch up on over at your ‘house.’ I have it earmarked to read while I have a chunk of waiting time tomorrow and am looking forward to getting caught up.
      I found Twelve Patients to be incredibly interesting. I’d always thought of Bellevue Hospital as being only a mental health hospital but it’s so much more. Each patient’s story takes the reader into another department of medicine. Dr. Manheimer writes with a great deal of description but I love that in a book and I didn’t find it distracting. He’s obviously a compassionate doctor.

      • atempleton says:

        Yes, I never found detailed description to be distracting. I like your use of the term ‘house,’ by the way. It is really where i live.

        • I wanted to drop by a let you know Tom has been really sick from a nasty sinus infection for the last two weeks and his medication made him even sicker. I haven’t had a chance to read and tonight am doing some catch-up. Don’t give up on me. I’m taking my iPad with me to appointments tomorrow and your blog is what I’m reading! Leave the coffee pot on because I’ll be at ‘your house.’

          • atempleton says:

            Hope Tom is recovering. No need to apologize–thanks for thinking of me. The blog will always be here; the door is always open for you, and the kettle on.

  14. ksbeth says:

    how sad and scary this sounds.

    • Beth – I picked the book up as I’m always curious about almost anything medical. Reading Twelve Patients actually gave me hope when I haven’t seen much of that in the medical community (due to our administration). I’d always thought of Bellevue as only a hospital for mental conditions but it is so much more. Thanks for stopping by.

  15. Denise Hisey says:

    This sounds very intriguing, Sheri. I’ve never heard of this book before.
    I went to hear Henry Cloud speak once and he spoke of his days working at a mental hospital and how depressing and discouraging it was. I don’t know that I’d have what it takes to do that long term.

    • Denise – I know I don’t have what it takes to work in a mental health hospital. My career took me far away from that area of medicine. It’s interesting that almost everyone, including myself, thinks of Bellevue as a mental health hospital. I knew the hospital was huge but had never thought of it being anything special. My eyes were opened within the first few pages. We owe Bellevue more than a simple thank you for the many major breakthroughs in medicine. I was intrigued.
      On a side note, my therapist is in the process of Medicare ****. I’m sure you know all she is going through. I’ll do a blog once everything comes to a wrap. The two of us have decided it’s more about the mission now than about getting her paid. Yes, money would be really nice but when I think of all the people needing help yet they can’t get it because no one knows how to get around the red tape, my mind wants to explode. Thanks for letting me know about having the opt-out letter.

      • Denise Hisey says:

        Hi Sheri, to be honest I don’t know much about Bellevue hospital. It would behoove me to read the book I’m sure.

        I’ve been thinking for some time now about writing some documentation on patient advocacy and putting it on my business website. I think there are many on Medicare who just get the runaround and don’t have anyone to help them. -Not to mention the thousands on regular insurance who don’t know the ‘rules of the games’. Your experience has reignited my idea.

        • Denise – I think that’s a terrific idea. Tom and I were talking about Medicare and insurance in general last night and how the average college educated person did not understand any part of how to obtain the best medical insurance for themselves and then how to insure the maximum benefits are paid. A couple years ago my critique partner called me and said her father was getting ready to write a $16,000 check to a local heart hospital because they had sent him a bill. I told her to get to his house immediately and I was on my way.
          I’m still not sure why but he’d wanted me in on the front end of his surgeon’s initial visit and on and on. I think that part had to do with Tom being career military and my career of investigating white collar crime with a specialty in medical malpractice and insurance fraud. Anyway, long story short, I made it to his home in under 30 minutes and explained to him why he didn’t owe the hospital anything.
          I called the hospital on his behalf while I was there and they gave me their usual nonsense of how they always bill until all the monies come in. It scares me to think about all the elderly people who automatically pay and then the health care institutions don’t refund the monies to the individuals. (I investigated many such cases during my career) The accounts are zeroed out when the last of the insurance monies have arrived, the clerk enters into the record a refund to the patient, the patient doesn’t know they are entitled to a refund and a check is sent to a fictitious account (for the clerk).
          I told Tom, if I didn’t know about my therapist needing to do the Medicare paper work and I’d had a career of digging into insurance law, etc. – what else didn’t I know (yes, I know I don’t know everything) but everyone else doesn’t have a prayer when it comes to all this stuff!

          • Denise Hisey says:

            Sheri, that is an all-too-common nightmare, I’m afraid. The most vulnerable are totally taken advantage of. We can’t fix it, but we can help one person at a time!

  16. Thank you, Sheri, for sharing your view of this book. I’ve always had a love for psychology and when I graduated high school I wanted to be a psychiatrist. Then I got the chance in my freshman year to live on the grounds o,f and work at, Napa Mental Hospital. What an eye-opening experience and one that totally turned me off from wanting to go into that field. I worked with teens and we had 100% access to their files and it was just too much for me to handle. It was one of the most sad experiences EVER. Granted I moved on to psychology as a minor but got a degree in Spanish instead. I would find the doctor’s book fascinating.
    Thank you.

    • Patti – I wouldn’t want to work in a Psychiatric Hospital either. Even Mental Health Units are far and few between these days. The Mental Health Units have changed their names to Behavior Health but it still means the same thing and I don’t think it does anything to lessen the stigma of being there. In my opinion, locked doors are locked doors.
      I believe all of us thought Bellevue was only a mental health hospital. Maybe that’s because what we heard the most about. Actually the hospital is so much more and makes recognized contributions to medicine and always has. Doctor Manheimer spends a little too much time promoting his own political agenda but his ‘like fiction’ made Twelve Patients a compelling read.

  17. Wow, Sheri … I’ve been wanting one of your in depth reviews and this one does not disappoint. To think of Belleview for most of us who grew up in NYC is to think of rows of screaming mental patients. The very name of the place rises like a black fog to frighten us … you’d better behave or you’ll end up in Belleview. Scary? Outspoken? I am happy to see that someone had the courage to tell at least a small part of that place I grew to mistrust. Thanks 🙂

    • Florence – It’s amazing. Hands down, all of us thought of Bellevue as a mental health hospital when it fact it has many wings and thousands of beds dedicated to any number of diseases and complicated injury reconstructions. They’ve pioneered the way in many break-through discoveries in multiple disciplines. As I mentioned to Patti, I was a little tired of Dr. Manheimer pushing his political agenda, but because of my interest in all things medical, I swallowed our differences. He’s an excellent social commentator and I’ll keep his name on my list to see if he writes something else. Thank you for stopping in to read with me.
      Your comment about being threatened by Bellevue as children brought a childhood memory of my own. The town where I went to high school had a large State Mental Health Hospital. I’d have to do some research but it employed many and of course terrible stories circulated about the place. I do remember the out-cry of voices from all over the state when it was announced the hospital was closing and the patients were being placed in homes in the community. Well, we both know how well that turned out.

    • I too grew up with the threat of Bellevue or the ragging of somebody’s relative was in Bellevue. But I found out that it was a good hospital when both my son and ex weretreated there. They also house a homeless shelter which is an excellent service since many of the homeless have mental health issues. I also agree this is an excellent review.

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