Lower East Side residents will get another chance tonight to address Mount Sinai officials about their decision to close Beth Israel’s current facility and build a new hospital on 14th Street. It’s the second of two community board meetings co-hosted by Community Boards 3 and 6. This evening’s meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. at the NYU School of Dentistry, Nursing & Architecture, Room 611, 345 East 24th St.
In the earlier session, held on June 9, Mount Sinai Health System executives Brad Korn and Brad Beckstrom took questions from local residents and listened to concerns about the upcoming changes. The number of inpatient beds slated for the new facility was a main concern for residents. Last month, Mount Sinai announced plans to close Beth Israel’s approximately 672-bed complex on 16th Street and build a new 70-bed facility a few blocks away. The 153-bed behavioral health hospital on Nathan D. Perlman Place will remain as is.
One retired nurse who has worked at Beth Israel wondered how the hospital would choose who gets in with so few inpatient beds. “If someone gets sick – has a seizure right now,” she said, the ambulance would take them straight to Beth Israel. “If you have a 70 bed unit, when they get to Beth Israel, what’s going to happen? What’s the criteria for admission?”
“I think we need a clinician to answer that question,” said the hospital officials, although they stressed that in general, “more and more conditions are able to be treated on an outpatient basis.”
Debra Glass, a CB3 member, asked about insurance: “Is there a possibility that the [downsizing] means some health care plans will no longer be accepted?” Another community board member asked specifically about Medicaid and EmblemHealth.
The representatives’ said they can’t guarantee “five years from now what the situation will be with a particular carrier,” because contracts are renewed and renegotiated every few years. But Medicaid will be accepted “without question,” and most other carriers should be accepted as well. “The hospital takes almost everybody,” the representatives said.
Another resident raised concerns about Beth Israel’s 5,000 employees. “You said services will not be affected, yet you will probably cut staff. I would like to know what number of staff you will be cutting, ‘cause that has an impact on the service. Give us a number.”
Of the 4,000 who have union jobs, the Mount Sinai officials said, “we believe over a four year period all those individuals will transition to other union jobs within the system.” And the non-union employees? “We believe most of those also will be able to transition.”
Vaylateena Jones, chair of CB3’s health committee, asked about mental health services in the neighborhood, citing a situation from a few years ago in which an elementary school student drowned in the East River. The student’s friends and family needed counseling. “The issue was, [they] couldn’t get an appointment for like three months, and they were sad right then,” Jones said.
The Mount Sinai officials offered a possible solution: The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in East Harlem. “There’s wealth in having a system,” they said, referring to Mount Sinai’s network of New York City hospitals.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer wasn’t happy with the answer. “[The kids] need to go in their neighborhood,” she said. “We love Angela Diaz, but we need an Angela Diaz down here,” she added, referring to the adolescent health center’s lauded director.
The 2010 shuttering of Saint Vincent’s hospital in the West Village was also fresh on LES residents’ minds. CB3 member Alysha Lewis-Coleman was referred to Beth Israel when Saint Vincent’s closed. “It was very overcrowded. It took me months to get a doctors appointment for my children and myself,” she told the Mount Sinai reps. “Now that you’re downsizing, I’m concerned that there’s gonna be another issue with families that are gonna feel displaced.”
Another long-time resident agreed. “I think a lot of us are traumatized by what happened around the Saint Vincent’s situation and also around Cabrini that happened previous to that,” he said. “We’ve seen inpatient facilities that are available to our community disappear.”
“Saint Vincent’s was a stand alone hospital,” the Mount Sinai officials responded. “Why we are able to withstand what’s going on at Beth Israel is we’re part of a larger system.” If Beth Israel was a stand alone hospital, they added, it would go broke by the end of summer 2016.
One resident pushed back: “For 126 years, it’s been what it is and hasn’t gone broke. You can paint it how you want to paint it. Three years ago you merged with this institution, with the optics of the future that you were going to downsize it. It feels like you guys knew you were gonna do this, you knew how you were gonna do it,” he said, “and now you come to the community and you’re telling us we have to take it.”
One CB3 member voiced a general lack of faith in Mount Sinai’s downsizing process. “It doesn’t feel honest,” he said. “It also feels like my neighborhood, which is not as wealthy as where you’re moving – up toward Gramercy, up toward Midtown – is getting the short end of the stick.”
“The big issue is we’re leaving lower Manhattan without a large hospital,” said Luke Henry, also a CB3 member. ”That’s the bottom line.”