By Penny Mintz
July was a very busy month for getting people to sign an order to get candidates on the ballot for the Democratic primary on September 13th. So it was a slow month for the work of the Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel (CCSBI), a 12-member organization of community groups that have come together to try to keep Mount Sinai Beth Israel (MSBI) from any further closures of hospital units without a full review of the impact of such closures by the New York State Department of Health.
The petitioning was productive. Cynthia Nixon, Jumaane Williams, and Zephyr Teachout were all wildly successful. And oh—yes—so was I! I will be on the ballot for state committee. Please be sure to vote.
No meetings were scheduled by CCSBI with elected officials during the month of July. However, things are happening. On July 19th, Community Board 3’s Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee heard a presentation on the application that MSBI filed at the Board of Standards and Appeals. MSBI needs permission to combine two lots into one on the 13th Street site in order to build the 72-bed replacement of the main Beth Israel building. CB3’s Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee recommended denying the application at this time. This decision would at least slow down the process.
Unfortunately, at the full board meeting on July 24th, CB3 declined to review MSBI’s application for permission to merge two tax lots into one for the building of the 72-bed replacement facility. This decision was effectively a recommendation to approve the application. The board made this decision, reversing its land use committee, despite concerns that the process is going forward without any clear community understanding of the public health impact of reducing the number of beds from 800 to 72, and the fact that the plan includes a “very lucrative sale” of the building on 16th Street, without the inclusion of affordable housing requirements on the site.
The reasoning given by some of the board members for refusing to recommend denial of the application was fear that the 16th Street building would come down without any replacement facility at all. However, it’s hard to believe that the state would approve the total dismantling of Beth Israel without any replacement facility, no matter how insufficient, to meet the health needs of lower Manhattan.
Meanwhile, the building on the site has been almost totally demolished.
Last month also saw one of CCSBI’s member organizations, MergerWatch, conduct a webinar to explain the findings of its most recent report, “When Hospitals Merge.” MergerWatch’s basic conclusion is that, before hospitals close, transparency and community oversight are needed to protect the health needs of the communities that are served by the planned closures.
Transparency and community oversight is precisely what is missing in MSBI’s approach. So CCSBI will be moving forward in its efforts to gain a full public review of the impacts of the planned closures and transformation of Beth Israel Hospital. Next on the agenda will be a meeting with State Senator Brad Hoylman.