By Penny Mintz
For the past few months, a committee within the Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan (PALM) has been working diligently on organizing a coalition of community organizations aptly named the Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel (CCSBI). In the interest of transparency, I must state that I am the chair of that organizing committee. So far, we have managed to assemble a coalition of 11 community organizations.
Nothing sufficiently newsworthy occurred while this coalition was being organized until Friday, April 27, 2018, when 10 individuals from the coalition met with three members of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s staff: Jeanette Merrill, Ze-Emanuel Hailu, and Emily Balkan, who is particularly knowledgeable about health issues as she is formerly of Metro New York Health Care for All’s Medicare Rights Center.
This initial meeting was a fact-finding meeting designed to provide information to the speaker so that he could make an informed decision about any action that he would take regarding the future of the hospital. The speaker himself, who was formerly the chair of the council’s Health Committee, did not participate.
As State Assembly Member Harvey Epstein explained, there is a need for the speaker and the council to collaborate with the state “to ensure that the residents of the East Side and the rest of the city have access to the hospital beds and services that they need. We want to be a partner with you to figure out what is best for the community,” Epstein said. “Closing the hospital is not what’s best.”
Democratic District Leader Paul Newell said that the current plan of Mt. Sinai Beth Israel (MSBI) is to turn the 16th Street facility into a luxury residential building. That cannot occur without zoning changes that must be approved by the city council. If the 16th Street site is not restored to full service, Newell said, “we need to hold those zoning changes hostage and demand a full-service hospital at the new site.” This argument resonated with the speaker’s staff because that is where the city has the most impact.
Lois Uttley of MergerWatch described the approvals by the state Department of Health (DOH) that enabled the closure of four profitable Beth Israel units last year. She described MSBI as effectively “gaming the system” by getting approval from the DOH with small, limited reviews. “It is critically important,” Uttley says, “that MSBI officials listen to the affected residents and respond to their valid concerns about the downsizing of Beth Israel.”
Mark Hannay, of Metro New York Health Care for All, reported that when the hospital merger occurred, MSBI had promised they they would provide the needed services for the community, which were particularly necessary after the closure of St. Vincent’s. It has turned out, Hannay explained, that MSBI has instead developed a business model that works for them, whereas “the community catchment area needs a full-service community hospital whether or not that fits into their business plan.”
So far, CCSBI includes (in alphabetical order) the 504 Democratic Club, Chelsea Reform Democratic Club, Coalition for a District Alternative, Commission on Public’s Health System, Committee of Interns and Residents (SEIU-CIR), CWA Local 1183, Downtown Independent Democrats, MergerWatch, Mobilization for Justice (formerly MFY Legal Services), PALM, Urban Justice Center, and Village Independent Democrats.