You Can Return a Hospital to the West Village

By George Capsis

We print 12,000 copies of WestView News each month and Steve and Tim trundle them around the West Village and try and get them into vestibules or leave them with accommodating doormen. I like to say we have 20 to 30 thousand readers, but I am not sure. We keep asking people to send $12 to subscribe, but I feel as long as they find it in the lobby they’re not going to do it.
I do get an occasional irate call—“You didn’t leave my copy this month”—and one reader who came to get his paper complained, “You write too many articles.”
Yes, well, WestView has grown and matured through the years as a direct result of the contributors. We have no reporters—when we need an article on medicine, a doctor writes it, on history a historian, or on science a scientist—so I do not take credit for WestView News. I, like you, read it with expectation and pleasure.
But along with publishing a community newspaper comes responsibility.
Newspapers print news and news is supposed to be what really happened. What really happened is the truth—we are in the truth business.
You can’t always get to the truth—and I never felt that more strongly than as we watched St. Vincent’s die, during those last months when “consultants” sopped up the remaining cash before they nailed plywood over the door.
And now another hospital is dying. They tell us that there is something wrong with the old-fashioned hospital business and that is why 19 hospitals have closed since 2000. Their answer is storefront urgent care centers with younger, less expensive doctors, and we have to accept that no hospital can be expected to lose millions, month after month.
Dr. Kenneth Davis, the President of Mount Sinai, put his name in bold letters on the top of a May 25 press release stating they were not closing Beth Israel, but they were “open for business,” and that they would make “a $500 million investment in care for the downtown community.” Finally, and most importantly, they would build a new 70-bed hospital with an operating room.
This was a very hard-pressed release to write, so it is a very hard press release to read. I know it was drafted and re-drafted and like all these overworked efforts the “truth” slips between the adjectives.
If, however, you ask where the $500 million is coming from, you may be getting to that truth. I don’t believe that Mount Sinai has a billionaire patron like Home Depot’s Ken Langone that gave $200 million to rename that hospital NYU Langone. No, the $500 million will come from the sale of the hospital buildings at 16th Street and First Avenue that make up the present Beth
Israel Hospital.
I can hear Dr. Davis protesting—“No, no, we will not sell the hospital until we have the urgent care offices opened, we expand Phillips Ambulatory Care Center, and we build the 70-bed hospital on 14th Street and Second Avenue.” Yes, yes, Doctor, we understand that.

BETH ISRAEL AS REAL ESTATE: Our nearest emergency room, Beth Israel, is now on the real estate market for $500 million dollars. The Village community is demanding Mt. Sinai relocate the replacement hospital in the West Village. Photo by Maggie Berkvist.
BETH ISRAEL AS REAL ESTATE: Our nearest emergency room, Beth Israel, is now on the real estate market for $500 million dollars. The Village community is demanding Mt. Sinai relocate the replacement hospital in the West Village. Photo by Maggie Berkvist.

And now, we are at the point I wanted this logic train to arrive at.
Why build the new hospital at 14th Street and 2nd Avenue?
Yes, it’s true Mount Sinai owns the 14th Street location, but the far East Side is served by hospitals all the way up to Memorial Sloan Kettering. They call it “bed pan alley.”
The West Village, the West side of downtown Manhattan all the way to the battery, needs a for-real hospital with a 24-7 Trauma-One emergency room that will save a heart attack victim in the few minutes that they have to live before the scalpel releases the blood clot.
But where shall we build it?
Right now, moving through the city approval process is a massive towering complex with over 1500 apartments. Seventy percent of those river view apartments will be offered to the global super rich who may never spend a day in their investment—Emerald City.
I am talking about the complex proposed by the real estate investment firms of Atlas and Westbrook Partners to replace the three block long St. John’s Terminal building below West Houston Street and in front of Pier 40.
A real estate investment firm is buoyed and floats on profit—buy low, sell a little higher. As long as their profits will be sustained or improved, they will not object to building a hospital on the site with maybe a few less luxury condos.
Mount Sinai management received a broadside of rage via Lincoln Anderson’s article from Beth Israel nurses and staff when they sensed the hospital closing. What they may most want to see is a continuation of their professional career in a nice new hospital.
Dr. Kenneth Davis wants to stem the rage. He wants not to be the bad guy. I not only want to meet all the medical needs of the community—I want to do better. I want to rethink how medical services can be offered, and I welcome a dialogue with the West Village community and its political leaders to build a new hospital that will not only meet but anticipate the emerging state of medical science.
Recently I had lunch with a very successful real estate developer about putting a hospital and medical electronics research center on the St. John’s Terminal site and asked if he knew of a possible donor like Langone and he quickly offered a name that had “billions.”
OK, this is simple. When a former director of New York public housing was told that New York public housing was a decaying worthless shambles he smiled and said “check the value of the real estate.”
Manhattan real estate is right now the most valuable in the world, at least until the next recession, and no question it is the only way that Ken Davis is going to finance his network of storefront urgent care centers and his expansion of the Phillips Ambulatory Care Center on Union Square and the building of the slim new 70-bed hospital—so old Beth Israel Hospital goodbye.
But we don’t have to build just the minimum of a full service hospital on this three-block long riverfront site.
We can turn to NYU who lost their last president in his blind push to build, build, build. The new president, Andrew Hamilton, has been handed the mandate to provide his students with a unique and exciting academic experience at the very cutting edge.
On TV, I watched a man who could never move his arm do so when electrodes were attached to his brain. I think as a part of our new hospital NYU could create a medical electronics research center.
And now you have to do your part.
If you want a hospital, you have to e-mail or write me and say so.
This has to be your idea, not mine.
George Capsis
69 Charles Street, New York, NY 10014

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