By Penny Mintz
It has been a busy few weeks for the future of Beth Israel and hospitals in general.
On October 3rd, the City Council’s Health and Hospital Committee conducted a hearing about the ongoing hospital “transformations.” Matt Siegler, a senior vice-president from the Health and Hospitals Corporation testified about the changes in our public hospitals, but no one from Mount Sinai-Beth Israel (MSBI)—or any other private hospital system— saw fit to attend.
Lois Uttley, Mark Hannay, and Arthur Schwartz, all members of the Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel (CCSBI), were among the six members of the public who testified. Committee Chair Carlina Rivera was particularly interested in Lois Uttley’s testimony about the state’s ‘certificate of need’ process, which regulates hospital changes. Uttley explained that the regulatory system was set up at a time when the state was concerned with hospital oversupply. There are really no requirements to review plans to shrink or close hospitals.
To the extent there is any review of a closure, the decision is made by the Public Health and Health Planning Commission (PHHPC), an advisory board to the state Health Department. For the last year, PHHPC has had no consumers on its board, although one consumer member is required by law. There is no requirement that PHHPC have input from local officials. Thus reviews of closures are essentially made by industry representatives; not unlike a fox guarding the henhouse.
Chairperson Rivera said, that after the election and the new state legislature is seated, she intends to prepare a City Council resolution asking the state legislature to change PHHPC to better reflect the interests of consumers.
The most exciting development was Arthur Schwartz’s testimony about the lawsuit he has brought against the state health commissioner and MSBI. Schwartz wrote about this in last month’s Westview. I just want to note that, because of this court ruling, no closure or partial closures can go forward until the lawsuit is fully resolved. Since the motions to dismiss alone took about a year to resolve, this no doubt puts a crimp in MSBI’s “transformation” timeline. Between the time factor and the judge’s suggestion that the parties should talk, there is a real possibility that MSBI might finally consider the needs of the community in their plans going forward.
The Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel (CCSBI) is not a party to the lawsuit. It certainly does not have a seat at any negotiation table that may materialize. Nevertheless, CCSBI came up with a wish list. On the top of that list is the completion of an independent needs assessment before any decisions are made about service changes, including those to be provided in the 13th Street facility. CCSBI also wants local elected officials to be brought into the process. Last but not least, CCSBI does not want the 16th Street site to become luxury housing.
If the old hospital building is ultimately closed, I personally would like to see a Mitchell-Lama-type housing cooperative built there, like Penn South in Chelsea. Penn South is a wonderful enclave of middle-class living. If that happened, MSBI would not get top dollar for the property. But why should it? MSBI is a not-for-profit organization. It pays no taxes. Its obligation is to function for the public good, not to maximize profits. The addition of true middle-class housing would be a great public benefit. We could throw in a plaque.
Hospital Transformations Hearing
By Penny Mintz