Beth Israel Hospital Cannot Be Closed!

This Is A Community Crisis

June 15, 2021-Community activists and elected officials celebrated Mount Sinai’s announcement that it was going to refurbish Beth Israel Hospital and keep it open. Photo by Jason Coniglione.

Mount Sinai Beth Israel is lying to and betraying our community once again. Beth Israel is the nearest hospital we have in Greenwich Village. This is a community fight and a personal one. Not too many years ago Beth Israel saved my life. I later brought a lawsuit to stop the closure and Beth Israel backed down. Now they have changed their mind again. 

On January 30, 2017, I woke up feeling awful. The symptoms said to me: “heart attack.” I got dressed and my wife drove me to Northwell Health. After an EKG, a doctor said, “you are going to the hospital by ambulance.” I said, “which hospital?” He said “Beth Israel.” Having heard that Beth Israel was closing, I asked, “can I go somewhere else?” He suggested Lenox Hill on 77th Street. My brain said, “no, too far,” so off I went for a long 10-minute trip to Beth Israel where the doctors and nurses saved my life. They also told me what was happening there and begged me to help (after George Capsis told them I was a crusading lawyer who could save their hospital).

They said I was lucky that all I needed were stents because the heart surgery unit had just been closed. If I had needed surgery, I would have been shipped up to 101st Street to Mount Sinai. I also learned that 250 beds were still filled every day and that general surgery, the emergency room and the maternity ward were still in full swing.

I began to track the hospital’s filings at the Health Department. Remember when Mount Sinai bought Beth Israel in 2015, they promised to keep the hospital open? Well, by 2017 they were dismantling the hospital piece by piece with the elimination of 700 beds and plans for a new 70-bed hospital at 14th Street and Second Avenue. In May 2017 they shut maternity and pediatric surgery. They got permission to close hundreds of beds. In August 2017 the whole project was approved by the NY State Department of Health. No studies, no public hearings, just bureaucratic approval of the dismantling of our healthcare.

I filed a lawsuit, Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan (PALM) v. Zucker and challenged the piecemeal closures, without studies or hearings, as a violation of both the Public Health Law and the State Environmental Quality Review Act. And Penny Mintz, with the help of PALM and Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, organized the Coalition to save Beth Israel. While we litigated and organized, through 2018 and 2019, Beth Israel halted its shutdown and the closure was delayed. 

In early March 2020, Judge Shlomo Hagler gave a mixed ruling. He said that the closure of the heart surgery unit violated the Public Health Law, but that “public health” was not an environmental concern, and would not reverse the other downsizing which had occurred. His ruling followed a February 2020 divided vote by the Public Planning Health Council approving a new 70-bed hospital. It was an important, though not final step.

In mid-March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered NYC. Mintz and I did a press conference in front of Beth Israel on March 19, demanding that it open up its much needed 500 mothballed beds. Beth Israel denounced our press conference as a “publicity stunt.” Several days later, as the Javitz Center was turned into a hospital, Beth Israel agreed to open up 400 beds (which remain open).

In April, 2020 as I was about to sue—again—to stop the new hospital, I got a letter from Beth Israel’s lawyer: “Don’t sue. We aren’t moving forward at this time.”

In November, 2020. Beth Israel told the Village Sun, “The pandemic has changed our world and radically impacted proposed healthcare projects across the country. As a result, when it comes to the future of Mount Sinai Beth Israel, we are putting every option back on the table, except closing the hospital. To be clear, we will not close Mount Sinai Beth Israel.”

In a closed Zoom meeting on June 15, 2021, representatives from Mount Sinai informed Community Board #3 that Beth Israel would remain open. During that meeting, Jeremy Boal, Mount Sinai Health System’s Chief Medical Officer and President of Mt. Sinai Downtown, recognized what community organizers have been saying for years. A reduction in beds from 800 at Beth Israel to 72 at the planned new facility on 1st Street makes no sense.

In a note to employees, Boal wrote that Mount Sinai wanted to have the capacity to respond to future pandemics and disasters. Mount Sinai planned to retrofit the Beth Israel building on East 16th Street and First Avenue to bring it up to modern medical standards, sell the nearby Bernstein building and shift mental health services to their facility on Rivington Street. 

My response was to call for the reopening of cardiac surgery, pediatric intensive care, and neonatal care, the other three units summarily closed in 2017. 

In late 2021. Mt. Sinai, which now owns New York Eye and Ear (NYEE) announced that it wanted to close NYEE and move its services to Beth Israel. The doctors and the community again organized and convinced the Public Health Planning Council to vote “no.” But the NY State Health Commissioner recently said “ok” with a bunch of conditions. One was that all services be replicated in Beth Israel’s building which is around a half-mile away. That approval was about to be the subject of a lawsuit when Mt. Sinai changed their mind again and said they needed to close Beth Israel because it was losing $150 million per year.

“Beth Israel saved my life!” Arthur Schwartz blogging about his near-death experience, January 30, 2017. Photo by Maggie Berkvist.

This was sort of like someone killing their parents and then crying about being an orphan. Mt. Sinai had stripped Beth Israel of all of its profit-making operations. They never created the modern hospital they promised in 2021. Gone is their concern about how to handle the next public health crisis.

This fight is just beginning to unfold. Closing the ONLY nearby hospital endangers all of our lives. I cannot think of what would have happened to me if I had needed a 30-minute ambulance ride uptown in midst of Midtown traffic. 

Watch for announcements in local media about our efforts to stop Mt. Sinai once again. If you want to contribute to renewed litigation, send your tax-deductible check to Advocates for Justice, 225 Broadway Suite 1902, New York, NY 10007.