At several public meetings in 2016 and 2017, Mt. Sinai/Beth Israel announced its plan to shutter Beth Israel Hospital and replace it with scattered out-patient services and a new 70-bed hospital in a two-story building on East 13th Street. It took steps toward this goal with the piecemeal closure of four hospital units: maternity, neonatal care, pediatric intensive care, and cardiac surgery.
The plan to close Beth Israel was met with fairly active opposition. In May, 2016, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer wrote a letter, co-signed by nine local elected officials, to Mt. Sinai President Kenneth David. They were concerned about the reduction in beds, especially since Beth Israel was supposed to absorb the loss in beds and emergency room space after the closures of St. Vincent’s and Cabrini hospitals. In May, 2017, Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan (PALM) held a public forum. At a public meeting with Mt. Sinai representatives in June, 2017, Corey Johnson asked the hospital to build a six-story building for a new facility, rather than the planned two floors. In August, 2017, then-Public Advocate Letitia James wrote to the commissioner of the NYS Department of Health; James said that the closure of Beth Israel “should not be permitted to proceed without substantial review and public comment, the type of review required by the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).” In September, 2017, PALM organized a demonstration in front of the hospital. In the fall of 2017, attorney Arthur Schwartz filed a lawsuit against Mt. Sinai/Beth Israel and the commissioner of the NYS Department of Health; the suit claimed that Mt. Sinai could not close Beth Israel without doing an impact study under SEQRA. The Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel coalesced in late 2017; CCSBI met with numerous elected officials seeking, primarily, their support for an independent needs assessment. In May, 2018, MergerWatch published a study decrying the lack of transparency and public input in hospital closures.
Despite the efforts and concerns of the community and elected officials, Mt. Sinai has not altered its plans one iota. According to Loren Riegelhaupt of SDKnickerbocker, which represents Mt. Sinai, “The new hospital design makes no changes to the commitment we made when we announced the project.”
So, the plan is still 70 beds on two floors. Or is it? According to papers that the defendants in Arthur Schwartz’s lawsuit filed, Mt. Sinai never had any plan to close Beth Israel. I remember that in 2016 and 2017, Mt. Sinai officials had been explaining their plans to community boards and other community groups in Lower Manhattan. Nevertheless, they now argue that they had no plan. Thus, there was nothing improper about filing piecemeal state applications for approvals for closures and other changes. They were not trying to avoid SEQRA oversight; they just had no plan.
The shutting down of Beth Israel’s maternity, neonatal, pediatric intensive care, and adult cardiac surgery units were not closures—according to the defendants in the lawsuit. No. They were decertifications of beds, done to save money. As it happens, all the beds in maternity, neonatal, pediatric intensive care, and adult cardiac surgery—all highly profitable units, by the way—were either decertified or transferred uptown.
So, they had no plan, and they did not close any units. It’s an alternative reality, says Schwartz. Meanwhile, according to the court papers, the new building on East 13th Street will be 13 floors. Included in that space will be the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, which will be shut down during construction.