HealthCare Chaplaincy Criticized For Selective Outreach on Lower East Side

Architectural drawing depicting new pallative care facility at 265-275 Cherry St.
Architectural drawing depicting new pallative care facility at 265-275 Cherry St.
Architectural drawing depicting new pallative care facility at 265-275 Cherry St.

For many years the HealthCare Chaplaincy has been planning to build a National Center for Pallative Care at 265-275 Cherry St.  The 16-story facility, which includes 120 apartments and a health clinic, has long been controversial among many of the low and middle income residents who live in the Two Bridges neighborhood. Last week, at Community Board 3’s land use committee, it was obvious their concerns have not faded.

The HealthCare Chaplaincy’s Claire Altman briefed community members on her organization’s latest plans. They’re in the midst of making adjustments to the 184,000 square foot project that will require city approval.  During the meeting, Altman agreed to hold a town hall-style session for local residents, addressing concerns that outreach within the neighborhood has been selective and strategic.  The group has hired the influential lobbying firm Capalino and Company to navigate the community as well as city agencies.

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The facility, billed as the first of its kind nationwide, offers a new alternative for people in need of “end-of-life” care.  Residents live in private apartments and only receive intensive medical care and hospice care when necessary.  Altman says at least half of the residential units will be “affordable (covered by Medicare).”  The organization is now negotiating with the state for additional subsidies.  The market rate cost to stay in the center is expected to be about $7500/month, around half that of an average nursing home.  Altman said the project would create 350 construction jobs and 150 jobs in the facility’s health clinic.  The intention is to hire as many local workers as possible, using the LES Employment Network.

Altman asserted that there has been a “continuing dialogue with residents of Cherry Street” about the project.  People have expressed worries about construction noise, environmental issues and the potential impact on the neighborhood if the facility is sold for market rate apartments or morphs into a luxury property.  A key voice in opposition to the proposal has been Cherry Street tenant leader Ricky Leung, who’s also a vice chairperson of CB3. While acknowledging the existence of an advisory committee and the fact that he’s been invited to participate, Leung said many tenant leaders, including those at the Lands End 1, Two Bridges Towers and Rutgers Houses, have been left out of the process.  “We have pushed and pushed,” Leung said and only recently did the Chaplaincy “reluctantly say yes” to a town hall meeting.  During the meeting, Wilson Su of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council read a statement in strong support of the HealthCare Chaplaincy’s plan and of its outreach efforts.  Indirectly referring to Two Bridges, Leung said, “speaking to one person who happens to have an office in out building doesn’t constitute outreach.”

Altman countered that Leung had been difficult to reach.  She said two tenants showed up at a recent advisory board meeting and we’re supportive of the proposal.   Community groups and The HealthCare Chaplaincy are now working out details for a meeting, tentatively set for next week.  The facility is scheduled to open in January 2016, although it’s already been delayed due to difficulties lining up financing.