By George Capsis
Shortly after Mt. Sinai took over financially troubled Beth Israel, I visited it for a blood test and witnessed a nurse exhibiting the exhilaration of defiance as she recounted to colleagues her encounter with the Mount Sinai “suits” in the monthly “let’s all work together” meeting. I was astonished at her vehemence and began to ask questions.
Most of her anger came from Mt. Sinai putting in their people to run departments, with the implicit message that Beth Israel professional staffers were incompetent; hence the ever-accelerating slide into bankruptcy. And even when I identified myself as the publisher of WestView, she continued; so keen was her anger and alienation from those who were so insensitive to the Beth Israel professional and personnel relationships formed over decades—she invited me to the next meeting…
I dismissed this as normal takeover friction until I read Lincoln Anderson’s recounting on May 17th of nurses insisting that the West Village’s now nearest emergency room at 16th and 1st Avenue was about to close—oh wow!
A doctor friend connected to Beth Israel sent me an inside memo, in which Beth Israel management was spluttering with rage over The Villager article, even mentioning them by name. And even today, May 26th, the Times gives Lincoln’s article credit for breaking the story. The internal memo warned recipients not to forward it to outsiders, under penalty of professional excommunication.
And then another funny thing—after this furious e-mail denial, I dialed the press office of Beth Israel. And as I dialed, I glanced at the clock and realized it was after 6:00 PM, and I was going to get, “I am either on my phone or away from my desk.” Then a real female voiced answered—which I took for the girl who answers the phone to say nobody is available. In my irritation I asked, “Is anybody there?” And I got, “Well I’m here,” and she identified herself as the boss of PR and I apologized, and we fell into a friendly and polite conversation (this is not only rare, it never ever happens, because when you have a crisis, the press is the enemy). She smilingly said I would get the press release in the morning, and I did.
Oh wow, the headline in the press release said nothing about closing Beth Israel, but instead that they were going to invest $500 million for a panoply of new urgent care centers and a slimmed down 70-bed hospital.
Having worked for 11 years at IBM in Corporate Communications, I could tell a tortured overworked press release when I saw one, and that one was a pip—the fact that they would be selling the current bunch of buildings on 16th and First Ave. was lost in tortured hyperbole.
Yes, this was the same type of deal St. Vincent’s had: Sell the hospital to Rudin and build a nice, new, slim hospital on the old Loew’s Sheridan plot. Then, they simply ran out of money to pay salaries, nailed plywood over the doors, and allowed the consultants to mop up any spare dollars before selling it to Rudin to build a 200-unit condo complex for a handful of very rich people.
OK. It is easy for me to critique an overly opaque press release. But there is no doubt that while we are getting close to a cure for cancer, the business of medicine in this country is a mess. And Bernie is right that we are the last advanced country that does not tax the hell out of its citizens, but gives them free (better than ours) medical treatment from cradle to grave.
So, here in New York we have lost 19 hospitals since the year 2000, and will probably lose more because the cost of medicine is uncontrollably crazy—I pay (or more accurately Medicare pays) $2000 for a single macular degeneration eye injection (insane).
Sure, medicine is changing; and my second hospital stay, after having my tonsils out at age 8, was at the very Mount Sinai we are talking about. It was maybe 50 years ago. I had tried to pick up the edge of a 6-inch garden slate, and my intestines slipped through a flabby muscle wall—then an operation and a day and a half in the hospital and two young surgeons making solicitous visits. And then like 3 years ago, another hernia, but this time to the Phillips Ambulatory Care Center (also bought out or acquired by Mount Sinai), where they did instant laser surgery sitting me on a big chair for 20 minutes, then home in a cab.
Hopelessness is what we all feel when our hospitals close down, because we feel there is nothing we can do about it (and there isn’t). But this time, we, or you, can do something about the sale of Beth Israel to a real estate developer for approximately $500 million (I think the number is a little high).
Remember, Mount Sinai management plans to build a new for real mini 70-bed hospital with an emergency room, to save heart attack victims. But the problem is that they plan to build it next to the Eye and Ear Infirmary on 2nd Avenue and 14th Street, and we in the West Village could use it closer to home (and they have a continuous string of hospitals on the East side all the way up).
OK. We don’t need more luxury condos in the West Village. And while thanks to Corey Johnson, 30% may be “affordable”, this is going to be a three block long wall that will shadow the West Village for a century or more while providing river views for a very few rich people. No, we need that 70-bed hospital.
(As I wrote these words Brian Lehrer on WNYC introduced de Blasio, and I called the young man who accepts calls from would be on-air questioners only to have him say “he would not be talking hospitals, sorry good bye.” Then de Blasio took a question on the closing of Beth Israel.)
OK, I am going to e-mail this to Corey Johnson to see if he can get the ear of the person who talks to the person who talks to de Blasio, to set up a meeting to have a meeting to have de Blasio call the COO of Mount Sinai to ask: why not put the new hospital on the St. John Terminal site opposite Pier 40. And just maybe the city can find ways to help out. And maybe WestView can advertise for one of the new West Village billionaires just moving into Rudin Towers to donate.