By Penny Mintz
Members of the Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel (CCSBI), including one of our founding members, State Assemblyman Harvey Epstein, met with State Senator Brad Hoylman in early August. This is the fourth in a series of meetings CCSBI has held with elected officials. Since April the coalition has met with City Council Member Carlina Rivera and with staff from the offices of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and City Council Member Keith Power.
The meeting with Hoylman and Epstein was by far the most fruitful because they agreed to work together to achieve two goals. One would be a step toward improving oversight and transparency of the closure process, which is one of CCSBI’s primary objectives. Hoylman and Epstein agreed to write a joint letter to the governor and to the state health commissioner demanding that two consumer advocates be appointed to the 25-member Public Health and Health Planning Council (PHHPC).
PHHPC is charged with advising the Department of Health about hospital construction projects and service changes. Right now, PHHPC has 23 members and two vacancies. According to Lois Uttley of MergerWatch, none of the members of PHHPC are public-health advocates representing consumer interests. All of the members are industry representatives. Only one public advocate is mandated by law. At this time, that position is one of the two vacancies. Moreover, PHHPC holds all of their meetings at times when no member of the public is likely to attend. As a result, they do not hear from health consumers or public health advocates before advising the commissioner. Nor does the public have reasonable access to any issue that is before PHHPC either before or after their recommendations are made.
If two consumer/health advocates were to be appointed to PHHPC from a list of competent candidates, whose resumes are already before the commissioner, that could be a significant step forward in opening the process to greater transparency. Three would be better, says Lois Uttley, who added that one public advocate gets awfully lonely at those meetings.
As of this writing, a draft of that joint Hoylman/Epstein letter is being prepared.
The other affirmative action that Hoylman and Epstein agreed to take was to actively support a bill in the State Senate and the State Assembly next session that would essentially mirror a 2017 bill called the Local Input in Community Healthcare Act. That 2017 bill would have required review by the health commissioner, including examination of the impact on access to health care services, before the closure of any hospital can be approved.
As of this writing, Senator Hoylman and his staff are reviewing the versions that have been introduced in the senate and the assembly. They both promise to do everything needed to move that bill forward.
On a personal note, the Board of Elections invalidated all 1,900 petition signatures garnered in my effort to run for Member of the Democratic Party State Committee. My petitions failed to say that I was running for the female position. The Board of Elections knew that because they listed me as candidate for the female position. Nor were the petition signers misled because, well, my name is Penny, and about 700 of them saw me as they signed.
My attorney, Arthur Schwartz—what an amazing person—challenged the invalidation in court, then in the Appellate Division, and now we are headed to the final arbiter, the Court of Appeals. Argument is set for August 29th. The question is whether the will of the voters to see a candidate on the ballot shall prevail over a technical error? Arthur has written a great brief. I’m optimistic.