Mt. Sinai/Beth Israel Applies for Drastic Changes

STATE ASSEMBLY MEMBER HARVEY EPSTEIN met with members of PALM last month to give them some insight to the workings of the state legislature. Photo by Mike Schweinsburg.

By Penny Mintz

Mt. Sinai/Beth Israel filed an application with the State Department of Health on July 22nd, 2019. The application seeks approval for the relocation and construction of a replacement building for the Beth Israel Hospital on 16th Street and First Avenue. If this application is approved, the hospital, with an 800-bed capacity, will be replaced by a 70-bed facility, and the 16th Street building will be sold.

According to the application, there are still over 300 beds filled every day at Beth Israel. This use continues even though most of the doctors who used to be based there have abandoned the hospital.

Mt. Sinai/Beth Israel (MSBI) made prior applications that resulted in the closure of the maternity, prenatal, neonatal intensive care, and adult cardiac surgery units. These applications were approved without any community input or consideration of community needs.

Assembly Member Harvey Epstein spoke with members of Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan (PALM) on July 23rd. The issue of the hospital closure came up. Epstein, a former PALM member and a leader in the group’s effort to save Beth Israel, remains a supporter of that effort. He reported that the state application process has set in motion public discussions that will take place at Community Boards 3 and 6.

MSBI cannot build the replacement facility and destroy the old hospital without any public hearings the way they did in closing the four hospital units. But will these hearings be substantive or pro forma? Whose needs will be given the most weight: the health-care consumers or the providers?

There are two bills percolating through the state legislature that could have put consideration of the health needs of the community ahead of the interest of MSBI in selling its extremely valuable real estate.

The LICH Act (Local Input in Community Health Act) would have been a powerful tool in the effort to save Beth Israel. The bill, if passed, would give residents and local officials a say in healthcare decisions by requiring that a community-needs assessment be completed before the State Department of Health can approve an application to close a hospital.

The LICH Act was originally introduced in Albany after the bitter two-year battle to save Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital (LICH) was lost in July of 2013. The bill’s sponsors, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon, wanted to prevent what happened to Brooklyn’s LICH from happening at other hospitals across the state.

The LICH Act has passed in the assembly every year since it was introduced. When progressive Democrats were elected to the state senate in 2018, it appeared that the time had come for the bill to be signed into law.

This year, the LICH Act passed in the senate health committee and went on to the finance committee. In the office of Brian Kavanagh, the current senate sponsor of the bill, staff members expressed optimism about quick approval by finance. There are, after all, no costs associated with the law. Unfortunately, the LICH Act never got to the senate floor. In the state assembly, the LICH Act never made it out of the health committee.

Another helpful bill in the legislature would increase the number of consumer advocates on the New York State Public Health and Health Planning Council (PHHPC). The State Department of Health is required to take advice from PHHPC about whether or not to approve proposed changes to hospitals like the application MSBI has filed. Right now there are no PHHPC representatives advocating for consumers.

Under Public Health Law, “at least one” of the 24 PHHPC members must be from a consumer health advocacy organization. According to Lois Uttley, director of MergerWatch, which analyzes hospital mergers, PHHPC’s one consumer advocate seat has been vacant for over two years. The new law would require that at least four of 36 total members be consumer advocates.

The bill passed in the senate and was returned to the assembly. There it sits.

Maybe these two laws will pass in the next session, but that might be too late to save Beth Israel.

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