By Penny Mintz
The Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel (CCSBI) faces an uphill battle, to say the least. People tell me, “There’s no way to stop it,” or ask me, “Isn’t it already closed?” Once, while I was seeking petition signatures (I’m running for Democratic State Committee), one woman said that Mt. Sinai/Beth Israel (MSBI) is a corporation that is entitled to do whatever it wants to maximize profits.
As it happens, that’s not true. MSBI is a nonprofit corporation. In exchange for being tax exempt, it must allocate all of its funds for the purposes stated in its charter. So MSBI’s duty is to provide health services, not maximize profits. Besides, there are state regulations and city regulations that apply. Most significantly, the zoning on the 16th Street property limits the site’s use to the provision of health care. To develop the site for residential use, the owner has to get a zoning variance from the city.
The issues of maximizing profits and the city’s regulatory powers were central to a discussion that seven members of CCSBI had, on July 25th, with City Council Member Carlina Rivera and her chief of staff, Pedro Carrillo. Rivera’s district includes Beth Israel. She also chairs the Council’s newly formed Committee on Hospitals, whose mandate is the city’s public hospitals. But she is clearly concerned about the provision of health care in general in the city. As Rivera noted during the meeting, to get a zoning variance, the property owner must go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which requires extensive public review. That was extremely reassuring, because a primary goal of CCSBI has been a thorough, independent review of community impact of MSBI’s proposed changes.
Members of CCSBI told Councilwoman Rivera of the coalition’s firmly held belief that, despite all of its promises at the time of the merger, Mt. Sinai’s goal was then and is now to sell the 16th Street property because of its enormous real estate value. The merger was always, at its heart, a real estate deal. CCSBI is concerned with the health and welfare of our community, not MSBI’s bottom line.
CCSBI’s position is that the best outcome is to re-purpose and reopen 16th Street building. We urged the councilwoman to make certain that, no matter what the outcome, MSBI must provide a guarantee that it will continue to serve the community’s health care needs and keep its promise to maintain the mix of insured and uninsured patients currently being treated.
The meeting with Councilwoman Rivera was extremely productive. She is deeply concerned about any the potential loss of—or inaccessibility of—services for her constituents and all downtown residents. She said that the Committee on Hospitals will be conducting hearings in the near future that will include discussion about the “transformations of health care facility uses and the changing footprints of hospitals.” In addition, in July, CB3’s Land Use, Zoning Public & Private Housing Committee will have a presentation of the Board of Standards and Appeals application that MSBI recently filed for the 72-bed replacement of the main Beth Israel building that is planned for 13th Street. It is also possible that Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s Task Force on the Beth Israel “transformation” and its impact on community needs will reconvene. So things are happening.
CCSBI members appreciated the presence at this meeting of State Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, who, along with Arthur Schwartz, was one of the original leaders of the coalition.