By Penny Mintz
City Council Member Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat running for lieutenant governor, spoke with Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan (PALM) members in late January. He presented progressive credentials quite impressively and answered questions about the threatened closing of Beth Israel Hospital’s main building at 1st Avenue and East 16th Street. But Williams had clearly not focused his attention on this issue, which is somewhat understandable since the threatened closing could be considered a local problem for Lower Manhattan. However, as 41 hospitals have closed all inpatient services over the last 20 years (according to health care advocacy organization MergerWatch), hospital closings are not just a local issue.
Williams said that New York City’s public hospitals are “woefully underfunded,” that he wants to see public health care needs met, and that large numbers of hospital beds are not needed because treatment is being provided outside of hospital settings. However, when informed that 300 to 400 of Beth Israel’s 800 beds are currently filled, and that Mount Sinai’s plan is to replace the 16th Street campus with a 70-bed facility, Williams agreed that “that level of diminishment is excessive.” He supports PALM in pressing for an independent study to determine the health needs of Lower Manhattan before the New York State Department of Health (DOH) permits the closure of any further Beth Israel units.
Since the January PALM meeting, The Villager reported that Mount Sinai may build the replacement hospital to its fully permitted zoned height of six floors, rather than two floors as originally planned. (See Lincoln Anderson’s February 5, 2018 article entitled, “Mount Sinai ‘leaning toward’ adding extra floors on new E.V. mini-hospital” in The Villager). Although that would be an improvement, PALM executive board member Arthur Z. Schwartz considers the Mount Sinai plan a “hodgepodge.” Despite Mount Sinai’s indecisiveness regarding whether 70 beds is enough, they would use the extra floors for offices, not more beds. Schwartz asserts this is “not the way to carefully address the health care needs of half a million or more people.”
PALM members have begun enlisting support for meetings with elected officials from their partners in the Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel. Nine organizations have expressed solidarity. The meetings will be scheduled over the next weeks.
On another front, motion practice is underway in PALM’s lawsuit against the DOH. The lawsuit asserts that the DOH commissioner violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act because a state agency cannot approve any action that will impact over 240,000 square feet of gross floor space, or change the use of property contiguous to a national historic site without first reviewing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to determine whether the proposed change will have a significant impact. The DOH moved to dismiss the complaint, Schwartz amended it, and the DOH reinstated their motion to dismiss. The court’s response is due on February 26, 2018, but the decision will probably be adjourned to a later date.
The next PALM meeting is on Tuesday, March 27th, at 6:30 p.m., in the Seafarers’ International House on Irving Place and East 15th Street.