By Penny Mintz
On May 22, 2018, members of the Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel (CCBI) met with two staff members from the office of City Council member Keith Powers. The CCBI members were there to inform Powers about the concerns of the community regarding the threatened closure of Beth Israel Hospital and ask for his support.
Democratic Party District Leader Arthur Schwartz, attending the meeting in his role of executive board member of Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan (PALM), told of his life-saving experience at the Beth Israel cardiac surgery unit, which was soon-thereafter closed, along with the hospital’s fully functioning maternity, pediatric intensive care, and neonatal units. Schwartz said that Mt. Sinai had promised that they were going to preserve and upgrade Beth Israel after the merger, which is something Powers undoubtedly knows since he lives practically across the street from Beth Israel and he spoke against the closure at the CCBI demonstration outside the hospital last September.
Instead of upgrading the hospital, 2½ years after the merger, Mt. Sinai started filing certificates of need (CONs) with the state Department of Health, Schwartz said. New York regulations require the filing of a certificate of need for any proposed modification of a licensed hospital service. The regulations permit a limited review of the change when hospital beds are merely being redistributed within the same network and when the cost of the change in services is minimal.
Mt. Sinai reported the cost of the closures of four highly profitable hospital units at $500 each, which in fact is the cost of filing the CON. “That put the CON in the category of the limited-review change, which sidetracks public hearings,” Schwartz explained.
The lack of public hearings was the major concern voiced at the meeting by Mark Hannay, of Metro NY Health Care for All, and Democratic Party District Leader Anthony Feliciano, director of Commission on Public’s Health System.
“The piecemeal process,” Hannay says, “flies under the radar. We want a full CON application and full public process.”
“Mt. Sinai gives us a piece of their plans and promises that the full plan will follow,” said Feliciano. “But the law does not allow for piecemeal applications. But we need the full plan in a manner that permits for real public comment.”
Schwartz has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health for failure to comply with the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). The lawsuit asserts that SEQRA requires the full review of an environmental impact statement before the approval of such changes.
Feliciano also pointed out that Mt. Sinai has made no assessment of the impact of travel time on ambulances going to the 70-bed facility that Mt. Sinai plans to build on Second Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets. “That location is not the right place for an emergency room,” Feliciano asserted. “The change in distance may be small, but the change in time is great. An ambulance must be 10 minutes from a hospital, and the traffic patterns on 14th Street won’t allow that. Unlike the 16th Street site, which has perfect access, the 14th Street site is a traffic nightmare.”
Feliciano also said that Mt. Sinai is violating the community benefits requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Mt. Sinai has already torn down affordable housing units for nurses.
AL, a doctor and PALM member, who fears reprisals from Mt. Sinai if her identity is revealed, said that Mt. Sinai is not concerned with the well-being of the community. “Every hospital closure has been changed into luxury housing,” AL said. “Are we better served by more luxury condos and the loss of affordable housing? Hospitals are looking to protect their financial interests, not the health needs of the community.”
Before last year’s Democratic primary, PALM conducted a candidates night, at which Keith Powers complained bitterly about the lack of community input before the Beth Israel changes.
Now, Hannay said, Powers has a bully pulpit. “He should be supportive of groups like ours. He should force Mt. Sinai to come to the table. The conversation so far has been framed by Mt. Sinai. That is the wrong conversation. It is not about community needs.”
“We want Keith to be our hero,” Schwartz said.