We Have the Ear of Albany Hospital Decision Makers

As WNYC’s Brian Lehrer introduced City Councilman, Corey Johnson, on the closure and sale of Beth Israel hospital I discovered to my delight that he is the Chair of Health Committee. We here in the West Village, may, via Corey, have a conduit to the State Department of Health and the State Commissioner of Health that will be involved in moving the new compromise 70 bed Beth Israel hospital from 14th Street and Second Avenue to West Houston Street.

Brian Lehrer: I see that City Councilman Corey Johnson is calling on this. Let’s see what he has to say. He is the Chair of the Health Committee. Councilman, thank you for calling in. So, what do you think about the closing of Beth Israel as we know it?

Corey Johnson:
My message is “slow down”. We have seen an enormous number of hospital closures over the last decade in New York City. They have had a detrimental and dramatic impact on the local communities that rely upon them. This plan has been without, really, any community consultation. There was one meeting with elected officials last week to discuss it after the Villager, a local newspaper, broke the story. We have seen such a dramatic decrease in health care services. I don’t know how you go from 600 in-patient beds to 70 beds. Maybe they need to decrease somewhat. I don’t know how you get to that number. And people in Lower Manhattan, especially after the closure of St. Vincent’s Hospital in 2010, are totally freaked out about what’s going to happen. There is a lack of hospital services in Lower Manhattan.

BL: So is there anything that you as City Council Health Committee Chair can do about this? Does the City oversee it?

Corey Johnson:
Hospital functions are primarily done by the State. The State Dept. of Health has to certify closures, it has to certify bed reductions. The City may, in fact, have some leverage here – I’m not entirely sure yet – because part of their plan calls for selling their existing building to build a new facility, and to finance that new facility with what’s going to be done with their existing buildings. So there may be some land use issues at play here. They may need a rezoning, I’m not entirely sure yet. But primarily the State Department of Health and State Commissioner of Health have a tremendous amount of influence over changing a plan and making sure it is more suitable to the communities they’ve served for over 125 years.

BL: Do you see this, Councilman, in a national perspective? The CEO of Mount Simai told the Times, quote, “We have the macroeconomics of Health Care, which is that it is unaffordable for everyone.” And he said Mount Sinai stands to lose over $2 billion over the next two years because of changes in reimbursement structures alone. So, is this a national problem? Is this Obamacare? Is this overuse coming back to haunt? How big a context, as Health Committee Chair at the City Council, do you think you could put this in.

Corey Johnson:
I don’t want to simplify it, Brian, but even before the Affordable Care Act came into effect after 2008 when the president won his first term, there were already many many hospital closures in New York City before that time. Since that time, the health care system has had to adapt to the requirements in the Afforable Care Act. Our public hospital system in New York City is in a pretty dire financial situation, with a $1.8 billion budget gap between now and 2020, which is horrendous for 13 public hospitals. A lot of that is because of a cut in federal reimbursements, federal payments, to public and safety net hospitals because of Obamacare. Beth Israel? I don’t know. There are a lot of outstanding questions that we need answers to. Why is 70 beds the appropriate number of beds? No one has really said that yet, and that is one of the major concerns. They’re certified for 856 beds, they use 600 beds. They say at any given time they’re 60 percent full. Well, 60 percent of 600 beds is 360 beds. So I don’t know why the new facility would only have 70 beds. I think it’s important we understand the details and how this is going to effect not only the local community that is around Beth Israel but all of Lower Manhattan below 34th Street. What I’m sensing out there on the ground from my constituents – and I’m not talking about political insiders, I’m talking about your average person on the street – there is panic, there is a building sense of hysteria regarding what is going to happen here. I think it’s important that we in government – and I’m glad you’re talking about it today in the media – provide a good amount of oversite, asking questions. Is this the best plan for the people of Manhattan that they’re proposing? For too long, the attitude has been that for-profit consultants or companies, with their money-making incentive and drive, could do a job more efficiently and better than City drudges.

BL: City Councilman Corey Johnson, thank you for weighing in on this.

Corey Johnson:
Thanks, Brian.
This is a transcript of NYC Council Member Corey Johnson’s call into WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show on Thursday, May 26, 2016.

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