By Arthur Z. Schwartz
June 11th marked a really sad day for those of us who live downtown. On that date, Beth Israel Hospital closed its Center for Labor and Birth.
Life is funny. The Catheterization Lab doctors at Beth Israel saved my life in January, when I got wheeled in with a heart attack. That was the same week in which Beth Israel closed its Cardiac Surgery Unit. While recovering, I looked out the windows and recognized the view. Twenty-nine years earlier, I had slept in a room with my newborn son, one floor above. Now that Center for Labor and Birth is also gone.
I can remember that unit as an amazing place: Hassidic Jews from Williamsburg, Chinese women from Chinatown, Latinas from the Lower East Side, Ukrainian moms, and a smattering of yuppies like my wife and me, all mixed together, with labor screams in multiple languages, and babies all being wonders to behold. And now, due to the greed and avarice of the Beth Israel purchaser, that Center for Labor and Birth is gone.
And it disappeared unlawfully! Over the next few months, local residents and community groups will seek to stop further closures and restore services within Beth Israel.
Two months ago, I reported that Mount Sinai had filed the required ‘Certificate of Need’ (CON) papers with the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) and that the “application for approval” was pending. What confused me was that other pending CONs, addressed to units that had already closed (like Cardiac Surgery), were also marked pending.
My research showed that a health facility only need file a CON within 90 days of an action occurring. Although the NYS DOH “approves” CONs, they could be filed 90 days after a change. Or, apparently, if filed in advance, a change could occur 90 days after a filing, without approval.
But there is an answer: A project like the closure of Beth Israel cannot occur without a proper assessment under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), which requires an Environmental Assessment and probably an Environmental Impact Statement for a project:
- That contains more than 240,000 square feet of gross floor area, or
- Is substantially contiguous to public-owned or operated parkland. (Beth Israel borders Stuyvesant Park.)
Beth Israel/Mount Sinai has been strategic by filing its CONs piecemeal so as to avoid the 240,000-square-foot rule. But the courts do not allow “segmented review” by whatever agency is responsible for review—here it is the NYS DOH.
As you read this, a letter has gone to the NYS DOH asking them to apply SEQRA and stop Beth Israel. A second letter has gone to Governor Cuomo, and a third to Attorney General Schneiderman. By the time the August issue of WestView comes out, we will be in court!
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Male Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village and President of Advocates for Justice, a Public Interest Law Firm.