Secretly Dismantling Our Health Care

By Arthur Z. Schwartz

As regular WestView readers know, on January 28th I experienced, first-hand, the reasons why we need a hospital downtown, not only Beth Israel, but another one on the West Side. On that morning, my life was spared because, while in the midst of a heart attack, I was able to reach Beth Israel in 20 minutes, from 7th Avenue and 12th Street. The surgeons there saved my life!

Last May, we were told that Beth Israel was being closed by its new owners in four years. Lots of folks sat back and said, “We have four years to fight this.” But I learned, while in Cardiac Intensive Care for three days, that the hospital is being dismantled piece by piece, quietly and secretly. After I got out, I was told that the NYS Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner (who reports to Governor Cuomo) had approved nine applications by Mount Sinai/Beth Israel to either change their Union Square and Manhattan Eye, and Ear, and Throat facilities, or, more importantly, eliminate critical (and profit-making) parts of Beth Israel.

Here is what the NYS DOH has approved since that “closing in four years” announcement was made:

  • A $10 million demolition of a building at 321 East 13th Street (next to Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat).
  • A $4 million renovation at 10 Union Square to create an Urgent Care Walk-In Center.
  • The addition of a second MRI to the Union Square Extension Clinic ($5.5 million).
  • The elimination of 26 Inpatient Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation beds. According to Beth Israel, “In the first six months of 2016, there were 290 discharges, with 3,396 patient days—a 71.6% utilization rate.” The 26 beds brought in a $17 million profit in 2015.
  • The dismantling of 73 Inpatient beds in the Maternity Unit—42 for mothers and 31 neonatal care beds— effective May 22, 2017. Also, the closure of 45 bassinet well-baby nurseries ended its status as a Level III Perinatal Center. According to Beth Israel, the Maternity beds had a 56.7% occupancy rate in 2016. As recently as 2013, Beth Israel had 10.5 deliveries per day and had a neonatal occupancy rate of 44.6%. (In its application, Beth Israel notes that those rates have declined notably in 2017. Could it be because word is out that the hospital is closing down?!) This unit brought in a $39 million profit to the hospital in 2015.
  • The elimination of 20 Inpatient Pediatric beds (closed on January 24, 2017). During the first six months of 2016, Beth Israel had 761 patients in these beds, for a total of 1,709 patient days—a 21.2% utilization rate. These beds brought in a $9 million profit to the hospital in 2015.
  • The elimination of the Cardiac Surgery Operating Room. Between 2012 and 2015, Beth Israel performed between 287 and 325 cardiac surgery procedures per year. These surgeries brought in a $17 million profit in 2015.
  • The elimination of all five Pediatric Intensive Care Unit beds. During the first nine months of 2016, they served 112 patients, who were in the beds a total of 402 patient days. As recently as 2012, the occupancy rate was 41.7%. These five beds brought in a profit of over $1 million in 2015.I have been in public service for almost 40 years. That such moves could be made—secretly—without public hearings or even public notice from the NYS DOH Commissioner, much less Mount Sinai, is a breach of the public’s trust. Blame largely falls on Governor Cuomo. Secondarily, it falls on local elected officials, who should have been on top of this for us.
    When Beth Israel closes, there will be no Level I Trauma Hospital south of 114th Street on the West Side (since Roosevelt Hospital on 59th Street is also being “modified”). And below Bellevue, at 29th Street and 1st Avenue, there will be no Level I Hospital. There will only be three hospitals between the tip of Manhattan and 70th Street where someone can deliver a baby or have cardiac surgery (New York-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan, Bellevue, and NYU).
    This is a travesty. Perhaps Beth Israel was too big. Perhaps St. Vincent’s lost too much money. But leaving those of us who live in Lower Manhattan with next to nothing violates our right to health care. We have a crisis, folks!
    Come to the Crisis in Lower Manhattan Health Care Town Hall Meeting on May 4th at 6:00 p.m., at Local 32 BJ (25 West 18th Street). It’s time to demand answers and begin to organize.


Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village and the Political Director of the New York Progressive Action Network.

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