By Penny Mintz
It seems that most people are completely unaware that Mt. Sinai intends to close the Beth Israel building on 16th Street and First Avenue.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, April 16, 2019, four committed members of the Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel joined me at the corner of 16th Street and First Avenue. Our goal was twofold: (1) To tell people about Mt. Sinai’s plan to shutter the 800+ bed hospital and replace it with a 70-bed facility on 13th Street between Second and Third Avenues; and (2) To ask people to sign a petition asking the Department of Health to require full review before approving any changes to Beth Israel.
Besides employees of Beth Israel, absolutely no one we spoke with knew that the 16th Street building was likely to be closed and sold for development into luxury condos. One man, pointing to his painfully adorable three-year-old boy, said his son was born there. So was my adorable son: forty-two years and six months ago.
It is true that Beth Israel was regularly filling only 650+ beds in 2017 when Mount Sinai closed four highly profitable and fully utilized units: cardiac surgery, maternity, pediatric intensive care, and neonatal care. Even today, without the four closed units, the hospital fills approximately 200 beds every single day. It makes no difference that hospital stays are shorter and many procedures that used to be performed in hospitals are now performed in outpatient facilities. There are still 200 beds filled every day.
If the replacement facility can handle 70 of these patients, where will the other 130 go?
They can’t go to Bellevue or NYU. Both of those hospitals, especially their emergency rooms, are seriously overcrowded. Gurneys line the hallways. Patients can’t go to St. Vincent’s. That’s gone. In fact, the emergency room at Beth Israel was enlarged in order to take care of the patients who could no longer be treated at St. Vincent’s. And now the Beth Israel emergency room is threatened with closure.
No one even knows what Mt. Sinai’s plans are for the 70-bed replacement facility. Will it be a stand-alone emergency room like the one that replaced St. Vincent’s? No one with a serious problem can go there. Even my son’s sinus abscess couldn’t be treated there. After being instructed by a medical assistant to go home and manually press out the puss, which caused excruciating pain and did no good, my son’s doctor told me to get him over to NYU. An ear, nose, and throat specialist treated him after a four-hour wait. But no specialists work at stand-alone emergency rooms. There isn’t enough business to support the presence of specialists.
Mt. Sinai is now arguing, in response to a lawsuit against them pursued by Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan and George Capsis, that they have no plans. They say that the unit closures were not part of any plan. There is no plan to sell Beth Israel and replace it with a facility on 13th Street, even though the 13th Street site has been cleared. Since they have no plans, despite numerous detailed presentations made over the last two years, there was no need to prepare an impact study, which they agree would otherwise have been required by state environmental law.
Mt. Sinai’s argument is thin. Hopefully, it will not prevail, and an independent investigation will be made regarding the impact that their planned “transformation” will have on the community.
Meanwhile, the Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel will return to the corner of 16th Street and First Avenue on Wednesday, May 15th, with our clipboards and table and literature. Come and join us. Let Mt. Sinai know that the community is watching, and the community cares.