By Penny Mintz
Few people have any leverage over the large political goings on in Washington or Albany. But when it comes to quality of life issues here in our community, there is a chance, right now, to have an impact.
Mount Sinai/Beth Israel (MSBI) has plans for Beth Israel Hospital and the medical services that will be available to the communities of Lower Manhattan, and we in the community have an opportunity to be heard on the acceptability of those plans.
At a community forum on Monday, November 4th, 2019, the MSBI plans will be explained and most of our local public officials will be present to listen and respond to community concerns. A large attendance at the community forum can force a better outcome. Look at the impact that massive objections by lawmakers had on President Trump’s decision to hold the next G7 conference at his Florida resort. Decisions, even by the most powerful, can be forced to change. MSBI cannot go forward reducing our medical system if the politicians know that the people are watching and find the plans unacceptable.
Last month, on Wednesday, October 16th, MSBI made a public presentation of their plans for the final closure of Beth Israel. Who knew? You probably did not. MSBI had informed elected officials and community boards about the time and place of the presentation, but they made no effort to inform the public. Accordingly, barely 40 people attended. Half of those seated in the 400-plus-seat theater at Baruch College were either elected officials, their staff, or representatives of community boards.
It is to MSBI’s benefit to have insignificant attendance. That shows that people have no objections to the changes.
Dr. Jeremy Boal, president of MSBI Downtown, explained that MSBI will be building a new 70-bed hospital on East 13th Street behind the Near York Eye and Ear Infirmary at 14th Street and Second Avenue. He had lovely pictures of the proposed building. That 70-bed facility will replace the 800-plus-bed Beth Israel building at 16th Street and First Avenue, which still fills 250 beds every day despite all that has been done to make it inhospitable to doctors and patients. Dr. Boal said the 16th Street building will be sold at the highest price possible to raise money to pay for the changes. He expects the buyer to put up luxury residential units but hopes there will be some agreement about affordable housing.
According to Dr. Boal, a new emergency room will be able to handle 70,000 visits per year, although there are about 84,000 ER visits at present. Anthony Feliciano, director of the community-based health advocacy organization Commission on the Public’s Health System (CPHS), told Dr. Boal that the planned ER had the capacity to handle only 45,000 visits a year. Feliciano based his assertion on MSBI’s official application to the Department of Health for a certificate of need (CON) to build the new facility. In the CON, MSBI stated that the new ER would have a total of 18,885 gross square feet of space. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, each ER treatment room takes up 800 to 1,000 square feet of space and can handle 1,500 patients a year. Thus the allotted ER space can only handle 35,000 to 45,000 patients a year.
Right now it has about 84,000 visits. The new ER cannot handle more than 45,000. This does not make for a rosy future for true emergency medical services in Lower Manhattan.
The question of maternity care also came up at the meeting. Before MSBI closed the maternity unit in 2017, there were over 450 births a year at Beth Israel. According to Dr. Boal, 450 births is too low a number to assure safety. Staff with the capacity to handle difficult situations cannot be sustained at a facility with so few births. He said that prenatal and postnatal care will continue to be handled in local, downtown practices, but the births have to go uptown to Mt. Sinai’s main facility at Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street.
You might wonder what downtown women in labor are supposed to do if they cannot make it in time to 103rd and Fifth Avenue. Dr. Boal answered precisely that question: “These women can have their babies in an emergency room.” He said that Beth Israel’s ER has delivered several babies that way.
That begs yet another question: If babies can safely be delivered in an ER, why is a small maternity unit at the new hospital less safe? Dr. Boal explained that as well: The new hospital cannot have a maternity unit or a birthing center because it would take up too many of the 70 beds and force out other services. That explanation begs another question: Why has the new facility been limited to 70 beds? Why not add a 5- or 10-bed maternity unit and have a total of 75 or 80 beds?
You can get answers to the questions raised here, and raise your own concerns, at the community forum on the future of Beth Israel and its services on Monday, November 4th, from 6:00pm to 9:00pm at the Sirovich Senior Center, 331 East 12th Street, between First and Second Avenues.
I have been handing out flyers about the forum and talking to people outside of PS 11 on West 21st Street. People are concerned. Most are upset to learn that Beth Israel is closing. Everyone knows that after the closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital, the local emergency rooms are overwhelmed.
It’s not too late to change the outcome. To do that, people have to show up at the forum on November 4th and voice their concerns:
Monday, November 4th
6:00pm to 9:00pm
Sirovich Senior Center
331 East 12th Street
(between First and Second Avenues)