By Penny Mintz
There was an exciting and promising development in Albany that bears directly on the Lower Manhattan community’s struggle to save Beth Israel Hospital. It may come to nothing this year, because the legislative session ends on June 19th. But as of this writing, there is still a possibility that both the State Senate and the State Assembly will pass a bill that will make it impossible for hospitals to close or reduce services without public review and an independent study of the health-care impact of the closure.
According to Health Care for All, NY, a statewide coalition of over 170 organizations focused on achieving quality, affordable health coverage for all New Yorkers, 41 hospitals have closed in New York State over the last 20 years. Since 2000, in Manhattan alone, we have lost Cabrini Medical Center, Doctor’s Hospital (acquired by Mt. Sinai, now condos), North General Hospital in Harlem, St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center (now condos), St. Vincent’s Midtown (residential rental), and Stuyvesant Polyclinic. Scores of other small hospitals were closed during the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Hospital closures and reductions in hospital services are essentially unregulated by the Department of Health (DOH). Although hospitals need State authorization to open new facilities and enlarge services, reductions in services can be authorized 30 days after the closure has occurred. This statutory “limited review” is really no review at all. It is a rubber stamp.
That was the level of “review” that authorized the surprise loss to the Lower Manhattan community in 2017 of four highly profitable Beth Israel units: maternity, neonatal, pediatric intensive care, and adult cardiac surgery.
Under Albany’s proposed legislation, entitled “Local Input in Community Health-care (the LICH Act),” surprise closures would no longer be possible. The LICH Act will require the DOH to look into the needs of the impacted community and conclude that those needs “can be adequately met” before the state could authorize the closure of a hospital, an emergency department, or a maternity department. In addition, at least 60 days prior to a proposed closure, the DOH will be required to give stakeholders an opportunity to speak on the proposed closure at a community forum. The bill states that DOH “would not be allowed to close a hospital without a significant and thorough community input process.”
Transparency. Community input. Consideration of the needs of the community. These are among the demands that the Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel has been articulating.
During a meeting in August, 2018, among members of CCSBI, State Senator Brad Hoylman, and State Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, the two legislators agreed to look into prior versions of the current bill that had failed to be passed into law.
The current bill was introduced in the Senate on April 11, 2019 by Senator Brian Kavanagh. On May 30, 2019, it was approved by the Senate Health Committee and sent to the Finance Committee. Since the new law is expected to have minimal fiscal impact, it should be referred out for a full vote—if all goes well.
The Assembly version was introduced on January 28, 2019 by Jo Anne Simon. It was referred to the Assembly Health Committee, where it remains.
On Wednesday, June 12, 2019, four members of CCSBI spent an hour and a half speaking with people outside of Beth Israel Hospital on 16th Street and First Avenue. The support for the LICH Act was enormous. CCSBI had names and telephone numbers of downtown legislators, and scores of people eagerly took the information and promised to call to demand support of the legislation. Scores of other people from Brooklyn and Queens promised to telephone their state lawmakers even though CCSBI could not provide the names and numbers of the legislators.
People are hungry to take action to save their hospitals.
Postscript: The legislature failed to vote on the LICH Act. Yet again. Hopefully, we won’t lose Beth Israel before the legislature addresses this issue.