Mount Sinai on Beth Israel: Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead

By Penny Mintz

According to Mount Sinai’s Brad Korn, Mount Sinai has been “taking a pause” in its plan to close Beth Israel Hospital. “The pandemic has changed the world,” Korn acknowledged last month at a Community Board 3 Health Committee meeting. But the pandemic, which is unquestionably a world-altering cataclysm, has not ultimately altered Mount Sinai’s goal. As Mount Sinai spokespersons Brad Korn and Brad Beckstrom made clear at the CB3 meeting, the corporate medical-dispensing conglomerate that is Mount Sinai is back on track with its plan to dismantle Beth Israel Hospital and sell the property to the highest bidder.

ON MARCH 19, 2020, three days before Governor Cuomo recognized the need for more hospital beds, Arthur Schwartz held a press conference outside of Beth Israel Hospital and called on Mount Sinai to reopen 400 vacant beds for COVID patients. Photo by Penny Mintz.

When Mount Sinai took over Beth Israel in November of 2013, it promised to upgrade and modernize the 16th Street building. Less than one year later, in October of 2014, Mount Sinai announced that it would be “transforming” the 800-bed full-service hospital into a new 70-bed facility with scattered out-patient offices. That plan was stopped in its tracks by COVID. Early in the pandemic, Governor Cuomo ordered all hospitals to double their number of beds. A few weeks later, Mount Sinai announced that it had reopened 400 of Beth Israel’s beds, beds which were desperately needed at a time when freezer cars were parked outside of hospitals throughout the state in order to store the dead bodies.

At the CB3 meeting, Mark Hannay, executive director of Metro New York Health Care for All, asked what happened at Beth Israel after the “radical downsizing” had been approved. Brad 1 (Korn) and Brad 2 (Beckstrom) were either unaware that 400 beds had been restored at Beth Israel, or they were deliberately downplaying the critical need for the hospital in the throes of the pandemic. In response to Hannay, Brad 2 asserted that only about 200 Beth Israel beds had been brought on line for COVID patients and only 70 to 80 beds a day were currently occupied by COVID patients.

Space, Brad 2 said, had been “readily reopenable.” That is an understatement, because about 550 beds had been mothballed but not removed. Mount Sinai had not yet received authorization to tear down and sell the mostly empty building that had been a fully functioning hospital a few short years earlier. Once the hospital is closed, along with the 20 other hospitals in the city and another 20 statewide, there will be no “readily reopenable” space available for the next health crisis.

Brad 2 added that the extra capacity had been “offered up to the city and the state,” implying that Mount Sinai made those beds available in an excess of generosity rather than in response to an order by the governor.

There may be a pause in effect at present, said Brad 1, but “everything remains on the table, except never closing the hospital.” The only question remaining is the timing of the start of construction for the 72-bed replacement of the hospital. According to Brad 2, no final decision has been made on that issue. However, he also said that construction on the 72-bed replacement facility will start in a few months.

Judy Wessler, who is a retired director of the Commission on the Public’s Health System, expressed concern about the lack of community involvement in the decisions about Beth Israel Hospital. Brad 2 asserted that they had had a very transparent process. Wessler disagreed. “What you did was report, not plan together.”

Brad 2 did not respond directly to Wessler’s point. He assured everyone, instead, that the process would move forward after the pandemic is over. He added that the hospital census “has substantially gone down ever since the pandemic, especially on an in-patient basis. Where we really need to do the expansion is on out-patient services. In the continuum, there will be more available slots for care as a result of those added services.” He was not asked about, nor did he explain, how in-patient beds would materialize for critically ill patients should another pandemic occur.

Despite demonstrations and public forums and petitions opposing the closure of Beth Israel; despite a lawsuit filed by Arthur Schwartz grounded on the lack of review before the state approved the closure of Beth Israel’s cardiac surgery, maternity, neonatal, and pediatric-intensive-care units; despite the still-raging pandemic which has made the need for hospital beds now and in the future glaringly apparent, Mount Sinai will close Beth Israel Hospital, and the 16th Street buildings will be sold at the highest price possible. Brad 1 and Brad 2 made that abundantly clear in their appearance at CB3.

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