By Penny Mintz
The Progressive Action for Lower Manhattan (PALM), which is a chapter of the New York Progressive Action Network (NYPAN) serving Manhattan below 42nd Street, continues to work toward either maintaining a full-service hospital in Beth Israel’s main building on 1st Avenue and 16th Street, or making sure that, whatever future is in store for Beth Israel at the hands of its current owner (Mount Sinai), the health care needs of Lower Manhattan will be adequately served.
At PALM’s regular monthly meeting on Thursday, December 20th, the committee working on the threatened hospital closure discussed the three strategies they are pursuing: (1) organizing monthly demonstrations outside Beth Israel, much like the bicyclists’ critical mass rides; (2) meeting with local elected officials; and (3) supporting the lawsuit being litigated by Arthur Z. Schwartz.
In view of the oncoming cold weather, PALM decided to postpone the initiation of monthly demonstrations until March or April. Meanwhile, PALM members will use their time and resources to organize meetings between public officeholders and PALM members with the support of concerned community groups, local political clubs, medical organizations, and unions.
The first public officeholders to be contacted will be the downtown City Council members: Corey Johnson, Carlina Rivera, Keith Powers, and Margaret Chin. Rivera, Powers, and Chin attended the PALM demonstration last September, and all four have taken positions against the closing of Beth Israel. PALM’s immediate goal is to urge the officials to take a firm, public stance supporting the health care safety net and the need to preserve the health care infrastructure of public and private hospitals.
After the proposed meetings with City Council members, PALM intends to organize similar meetings with Mary Bassett, the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and with Mayor Bill de Blasio.
In the lawsuit Schwartz is litigating, PALM is the plaintiff challenging Howard Zucker, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health, and Mount Sinai/Beth Israel. The complaint asserts that the Commissioner violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). Schwartz explains that, under SEQRA, a state agency cannot approve any action that will impact over 240,000 square feet of gross floor space, or any action that will change the use of property that is contiguous to a national historic site, without first reviewing an environmental impact statement (EIS) to determine whether the proposed change will have a significant impact.
The Beth Israel site is adjacent to Stuyvesant Square, a national historic site. In addition, the closure of the maternity, neonatal care, pediatric intensive care, and adult cardiac surgery units changed the use of over 240,000 square feet of space in the 16th Street building. The hospital units were shut down in May and June of 2017, and the New York State Department of Health gave retroactive approval of the closures on July 28, 2017. This was done despite the fact that no EIS was prepared. Zucker failed to demand one, and Mount Sinai/Beth Israel did not take up the responsibility on its own.
In its lawsuit, PALM demands the restoration of the closed units and the denial of any future closings without an EIS study. The State’s answer to the complaint is due in February. Schwartz is guardedly optimistic about the outcome, but he admits that “the case is no slam dunk.”