By Penny Mintz
In a closed Zoom meeting on Tuesday morning, June 15, 2021, representatives from Mount Sinai informed Community Board #3 that Beth Israel Hospital will remain open. I was not invited to attend. Nor were most of the community health activists involved in the struggle to keep Beth Israel open. But I learned that, during that meeting, Jeremy Boal, Mount Sinai Health System’s chief medical officer and president of Mt. Sinai Downtown, recognized what community organizers have been saying for years: A reduction in beds from the approximately 800 capacity at Beth Israel Hospital to 72 at the planned new facility on 1st Street makes no sense.
In a note to Beth Israel employees, Boyle wrote that Mount Sinai wanted to have the capacity to respond to the kind of pandemic we have just experienced as well as other disasters. Mount Sinai plans to retrofit the Beth Israel building on East 16th Street and First Avenue to bring it up to modern medical standards, and they will be selling the nearby Bernstein building and shifting all mental-health services to their facility on Rivington Street.
As soon as the news came out, Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan (PALM) and the 504 Democratic Club started organizing a celebration/press conference for Wednesday morning, June 16. Since Council Member Carlina Rivera was also organizing a press conference, PALM and 504 joined with her.
CM Rivera thanked Mount Sinai for its decision and called upon Mount Sinai to reopen Beth Israel’s maternity department, which was first shut down without community review in January of 2017.
Arthur Schwartz, who called this outcome a “great victory,” called for the reopening of cardiac surgery, pediatric intensive care, and neonatal care, the other three units summarily closed in 2017. Schwartz’s 2017 lawsuit against Mount Sinai and the NYS Department of Health played a crucial role in slowing down the closure of Beth Israel until COVID ultimately showed the danger of Mount Sinai’s original closure plan.
State Assembly Member Harvey Epstein also spoke. Before being elected to office, Epstein played a pivotal role in demonstrations, petitioning efforts, and the organization of the Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel. After his election, Epstein and State Senator Brad Hoylman, another speaker, urged the legislature to make the hospital-closure review process more transparent and to put consumer advocates on the PHHPC board, which reviews those applications for the NYS Department of Health.
Other speakers were health-rights activists Anthony Feliciano, director of the Commission on the Public’s Health System, Lois Uttley, director of Community Catalyst, a consumer health advocacy organization, and Mark Hannay, director of Metro New York Health. Feliciano, Uttley, and Hannay have been strategizing the effort to save Beth Israel and educating the public on the negative impact that closure would have on the health and economic life of the community.
For once, their effort does not have to be labeled “an ongoing effort.”
This is, indeed, a great victory.