By Arthur Z. Schwartz
The following is a copy of a letter sent to Howard Zucker, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health, threatening suit over the closure of Beth Israel Hospital. (Note: The content of the letter has been slightly edited.)
New York State Department of Health
Empire State Plaza
Albany, New York 12237
Re: Closure of Beth Israel Hospital
Dear Commissioner Zucker:
This office represents a number of individuals and community organizations that reside in the geographical area which Mt. Sinai-Beth Israel Hospital services.
As you are aware, in May 2016, Mt. Sinai Hospital, which had purchased the 800-bed Beth Israel with the promise to not shut it down, announced that it would be developing plans to close most of the existing hospital. Since then, it has announced plans to close all but the existing mental health facilities; to build a small, 70-bed hospital with an emergency room a few blocks from its existing facility; and to expand its various outpatient offerings in the area.
As part of its plan, Mt. Sinai-Beth Israel has filed piecemeal Certificate of Need (CON) applications with the NYS Department of Health (DOH), addressed to various departments and services, all of which have already been eliminated. These include closure of the pediatric intensive care unit; elimination of 42 maternity beds, 14 neonatal continuing care beds, and 17 neonatal intermediate care beds; closure of the adult cardiac surgery unit; and elimination of all pediatric intensive care unit beds. Many of these CON applications were filed in late 2016. Their status on the DOH website was recently “pending.” On July 28th, that status changed to “Told to Contact Area Office.” We have received “off-the-record” information that these CONs have been approved and that another nine (9) CON applications are on their way.
By piecemealing its CON applications, Mt. Sinai-Beth Israel, with the clear concurrence of the DOH, has sidestepped all public process, even the limited public process that your Department provides through the Public Health and Health Planning Council. And your staff, without any meaningful study or public input, has openly already adopted a position that the impact of Beth Israel’s closure will have no negative impact on Lower Manhattan, even though, in the past year, more than 25% of all Lower Manhattan admissions were at Beth Israel and 90,000 people visited the Beth Israel Emergency Room during that year.
After considerable study, it is our position that your Department, by allowing Beth Israel to close in the manner it has, and Beth Israel itself, as the recipient of millions of dollars in public funds, has violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). The closure of Beth Israel is a Type I action under 6 CRR-NY 617.4(b)(6)(v) and (b)(10)—it involves a facility with more than 240,000 square feet of gross floor area, and it is contiguous to publicly owned or operated parkland (Stuyvesant Park).
It appears to us that Mt. Sinai-Beth Israel has tried to get around SEQRA by submitting the CONs piecemeal, attempting segmented review. But segmented review cannot be used to get around SEQRA. Teich v. Buchheit, 221 A.D.2d 452 (2d Dept. 1995).
Not only has DOH entertained Mt. Sinai’s dodge of SEQRA, it has released an “analysis” without any formal study or public input, asserting that all of the services provided at Beth Israel pre-shutdown will be absorbed, without a problem, by the new 70-bed mini-hospital, or other facilities in Manhattan.
Our purpose in writing is to demand that, on or before August 11, 2017, your department advise Mt. Sinai-Beth Israel that it may not proceed any further with its plan until a full review under SEQRA is accomplished, and that your staff withdraw, publicly, its June 8, 2017 “analysis.”
We look forward to working together on the improvement of health care services in Lower Manhattan. Just like we all were opposed to the “Skinny Repeal” of Obamacare, we should all be working to avoid the thinning of healthcare services in Lower Manhattan.
Very truly yours,
Arthur Z. Schwartz
cc: Richard Zahnleuter, General Counsel
Governor Andrew Cuomo
Mayor Bill de Blasio
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer
Public Advocate Letitia James