By Penny Mintz
Members of the Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel met at Assemblyman Harvey Epstein’s office on February 7, 2019, to discuss the newest development in the ongoing Beth Israel saga. As an active member of PALM (Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan), Harvey Epstein had been instrumental in the creation of the coalition.
The impetus for the meeting was a letter Arthur Schwartz had received from Mt. Sinai relating to the lawsuit that he filed in December, 2017, challenging the Department of Health’s approval of the closure of Beth Israel’s cardiac surgery, maternity, pediatric intensive care, and neonatal care units back in July, 2016. Schwartz argues in PALM v. Zucker that Mt. Sinai and DOH violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act by closing the four units before doing an environmental impact study, as required by SEQRA.
Last September, Judge Hagler ruled that the case would be determined on the merits and not be dismissed on technical grounds, as the defendants sought. The judge then suggested that the defendants might consider negotiating with PALM.
In December, the attorney for the hospital informed the court that Mt. Sinai was “rethink[ing] the massing and design of the proposed new hospital.” Soon after, an attorney scheduled a meeting with Schwartz.
Schwartz and I met with the attorneys for Mt. Sinai and the DOH a week or so later. The defense attorneys were not there to offer settlement negotiations, but they did provide some interesting information: They said that the replacement hospital would be at least 10 stories high, not the two floors originally proposed or the six floors that Corey Johnson had suggested they build.
Ten floors! It sounded like Mt. Sinai was planning for a much more substantial hospital than the 72-bed facility that they had been promoting to the community. The lawsuit appeared to be having an impact.
The most recent letter, however, was more sobering. Mt. Sinai now says that the clinical services and the number of beds in the new facility “will be the same as previously described to you [and] the revised building will be somewhat smaller than previously described to you.”
This does not sound like a facility that will replace the 250 beds in use every night at the present Beth Israel Hospital, which is already down from the 600+ filled beds before Mt. Sinai took over and started closing down Beth Israel piece by piece.
The CCSBI continues to seek a full-service hospital and an independent community health needs assessment before any further changes are made. The coalition also opposes tearing down the present hospital building so that it can be replaced with more “luxury” condos.
New York Health Act
News on the New York Health Act is more upbeat. The NYHA was reintroduced in the State Assembly on February 12, 2019. The prior incarnations of the NYHA, which has passed in the assembly for the last four years, would have provided comprehensive, universal health coverage for every New Yorker. It promised to pay for doctors, hospitals, eye care, dental care, hearing aides, and prescription drugs. The current version adds long-term care and support services.
In the past, there was no chance that the NYHA would be enacted. The State Senate was controlled by Republicans, who oppose the health care bill. However, six of the Independent Democratic Conference members, who voted with the Republicans, lost their seats in 2018, as did several Republicans. Many of the new Democrats campaigned on the issue of comprehensive, single-payer healthcare.
So now there is a possibility that the NYHA can pass in both houses in Albany.
To make that a real possibility, our elected officials need know that their voters want it.
PALM has a committee working on that. If you want to get involved, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Put NYHA in the subject line. We are planning to lobby our state officials.
You can also contact Campaign for New York Health at https://www.nyhcampaign.org. On February 13th, Campaign for New York Health “barnstormed” ways to get people to telephone their representatives to urge passage of the NYHA. Attendees signed up to canvass door-to-door, canvass at public places, phone bank, or text. These opportunities are still available, as are lobbying trips to state and federal officials.