BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated May 2, 3:15 p.m.: Homophobic healthcare evangelists, get the hell outta here!
Local politicians are demanding that a hate-filled health organization not be given refuge in a Downtown hospital.
Since early April, Samaritan’s Purse — led by notorious anti-gay preacher Franklin Graham — has been treating COVID-19 patients at a field hospital on Central Park’s East Meadow lawn.
With New York mercifully starting to re-emerge from the darkest days of the plague, on Friday it was learned that the field hospital is slated to close in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, a federal hospital ship that was deployed to New York has already left town. And the temporary hospital that Governor Cuomo set up at the Javits Convention Center — which treated 1,000 virus patients — is winding down.
However, Samaritan’s Purse apparently is not leaving Manhattan — but instead simply relocating Downtown, according to the politicians. To his outrage, state Senator Brad Hoylman said he learned on Friday that Mount Sinai Health System has now invited the group to move into its Beth Israel Hospital.
According to a source, 40 Christian medical personnel from Samaritan’s Purse will take up residence in the Gramercy hospital, where they will treat critically ill patients, presumably those with COVID-19. They’ll sport their Samaritan’s Purse scrubs, complete with the group’s logo.
“Now that the U.S.N.S. Comfort has set sail and the temporary hospital at the Javits Center is closing its doors shortly, Franklin Graham should pack up his medical tents and leave New York City for good,” Hoylman declared.
“It was bad enough that Donald Trump’s failure to prepare the nation for this pandemic forced New York to accept charity from a bigot like Franklin Graham,” the state senator added. “Inviting Graham to stay on longer is an insult to L.G.B.T.Q. New Yorkers and sends the dangerous message that homophobia and transphobia are acceptable.”
During the pandemic, Samaritan’s Purse, which is based in North Carolina, has partnered with Mount Sinai to help ease the pressure on New York City’s hospitals, which have been flooded to capacity with coronavirus patients.
From the start, L.G.B.T.Q. activists have protested the organization’s presence here. On April 6, performance artist Reverend Billy was arrested
Today I tried to deliver a rainbow flag to the Samaritans Purse field hospital in Central Park. Franklin Graham and his Lords Army are here with their homophobic racist hustle. Help not hate. pic.twitter.com/zTK8mLmmbe
— Reverend Billy Talen (@revbillytalen) April 6, 2020
after trying to plant a rainbow flag outside the Central Park hospital tent.
Franklin Graham is the son of the late influential evangelist Billy Graham. He is infamous for his on-air remarks vilifying gays and lesbians, whom he decries as sinners, as well as Muslims. His group’s doctors and nurses must sign a statement of faith stating, “We believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female.”
However, Graham said the Central Park field hospital does not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
Hoylman is the state Senate’s only openly gay member and his District 27 includes Beth Israel. He said that on Friday Mount Sinai informed him that Samaritan’s Purse would be moving into Beth Israel.
“I fully support the heroic efforts of the doctors, nurses and medical personnel on the front lines fighting the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “But it’s a real shame that Mount Sinai still clings to the argument that the only way to help our healthcare heroes is to allow bigots and homophobes to lend a hand.
“On behalf of the L.G.B.T.Q. community I represent, I demand [Mount Sinai] end their association with Franklin Graham and Samaritan’s Purse, or risk further reputational harm with L.G.B.T.Q. New Yorkers and the wider public.”
Carlina Rivera, chairperson of the City Council’s Committee on Hospitals, reportedly received the same information as Hoylman: that Samaritan’s Purse would relocate to Beth Israel.
Several hours after Hoylman’s press release calling for Samaritan’s Purse to get out of town, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson issued a statement, as well.
“It is time for Samaritan’s Purse to leave New York City,” Johnson said. “This group, which is led by the notoriously bigoted, hate-spewing Franklin Graham, came at a time when our city couldn’t in good conscience turn away any offer of help. That time has passed. Their continued presence here is an affront to our values of inclusion, and is painful for all New Yorkers who care deeply about the L.G.B.T.Q. community.
“I am aware that our battle against COVID-19 is still ongoing, and that our healthcare system — and the amazing workers who have been the heroes of this unprecedented time in our history — still needs support. … But as a city that values diversity and compassion for all, we cannot continue to allow a group with the track record of Samaritan’s Purse to remain here when we are past the point they are needed.
“Mount Sinai must sever its relationship with Samaritan’s Purse,” Johnson stated. “Its leader calls the L.G.B.T.Q. community ‘detestable’ and ‘immoral.’ He says being gay is ‘an affront to God,’ and refers to gay Christians as ‘the enemy.’”
Asked about the pols’ claims that Samaritan’s Purse is moving into Beth Israel, Mount Sinai on Friday released an initial statement to The Village Sun:
“The field hospital and qualified doctors and staff of Samaritan’s Purse are all paid staff working at no cost to Mount Sinai, New York City or New York State. The field hospital is being run as a part of Mount Sinai and, as such, all workers must adhere to the Mount Sinai Health System principles and guidelines when it comes to not discriminating against patients or staff based on actual or perceived race, creed, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender, gender expression, gender identity, age, disability, marital, partnership or parental status, sexual orientation, alien or citizenship status, veteran or military status or any other characteristic protected by law.
“While our organizations may have differences of opinions, when it comes to COVID-19 we are fully united: We will care for everyone and no patients or staff will be discriminated against. Without the help of Samaritan’s Purse and the existence of this field hospital and their doctors and staff, more New Yorkers lives would have been lost in the pandemic.
“Thankfully, we are now seeing a significant reduction in COVID-19 patients and, assuming we do not see another increase in patients in the near future, we expect to stop transporting new patients to the tent on Monday, May 4. The tent will remain operational and continue treating the existing patients until they have all been discharged, after which we will reassess the future of the tent in Central Park.”
Because this statement from Mount Sinai did not answer The Village Sun’s question on Samaritan’s Purse allegedly moving into Beth Israel, the newspaper asked the question again; but a spokesperson said that is Mount Sinai’s statement and they are leaving it at that. So Mount Sinai neither confirmed nor denied that the health organization would move into Beth Israel.
However, on Saturday, Mount Sinai and Samaritan’s Purse subsequently issued a joint statement, in which they said Samaritan’s Purse’s presence at Beth Israel, in fact, would be “winding down” over the next two weeks — so, apparently, the “move-in” now won’t be lasting long:
“In March with the surge in critically ill COVID patients growing, New York hospitals were tasked with growing their capacity by 50 percent to meet the demand. As part of their response, Mount Sinai Health System partnered with Samaritan’s Purse to expand world-class care and bring critically needed medical support and surge capacity to New York City in the fight against COVID-19. Since April 1, this partnership has resulted in high-quality medical care for 315 patients infected with the virus. We are grateful for this opportunity to work together to save lives and reduce suffering.
“Now that the surge in COVID hospital admissions is reaching manageable levels, we will stop admitting new patients to the Central Park field hospital as of May 4. Mount Sinai Health System and Samaritan’s Purse continue to closely monitor the outbreak, and we anticipate that it will take approximately two weeks to treat these last patients and subsequently decontaminate and remove the tents. The Samaritan’s Purse staff will also wind down their support of Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital over the next two weeks. In the meantime, Samaritan’s Purse will continue to provide the highest level of care and compassion for the patients currently being treated by their staff.
“While this crisis is far from over, this marks a significant turning point in the coronavirus outbreak in New York that gives us assurance that we are returning towards normalcy. We are grateful to have fought the coronavirus together alongside the courageous people of New York City.”
In early April, Mount Sinai publicly stated that it would reactivate 400 idle beds at Beth Israel as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the city. As reported by The Village Sun at that time, the health system’s announcement followed hot on the heels of a press conference by Village District Leader Arthur Schwartz, who is running for City Council, and Penny Mintz, a candidate for Democratic State Committee, slamming Mount Sinai for “warehousing” hundreds of hospital beds at Beth Israel.
However, Mount Sinai claimed to have already been working with the state on reactivating the beds, and a spokesperson blasted Schwartz and Mintz’s March 19 press conference as “a publicity stunt by aspiring politicians.”
Four days later, on March 23, Governor Cuomo ordered hospitals to double their capacity in order to treat COVID-19 patients.
Helping to get the mothballed beds back into service quickly, the Related Companies real-estate developers sent an army of workers to fix up the rooms’ electrical and HVAC systems.
This Friday, Mount Sinai did not say how many of the reactivated beds have been used to treat coronavirus patients so far.
Mount Sinai plans to demolish the historic Beth Israel Hospital, which is licensed for roughly 800 beds, and build a mini-hospital at Second Ave. and 13th St. with only 70 beds. Schwartz, who is a lawyer, is suing to stop the plan.
Mount Sinai recently received a “contingent approval” to build the mini-hospital, plus convert the former Rivington House AIDS hospice on the Lower East Side into a 125-bed behavioral health and substance-abuse rehab facility. Schwartz warned the health system’s lawyer that if Mount Sinai tries to move forward with construction now, he would go straight to court and seek an injunction. But Mount Sinai’s lawyer gave Schwartz his word that no construction would be done until they get the full approval.
More to the point, Schwartz said the pandemic shows how badly New York needs hospital surge capacity and that a replacement mini-hospital with six-dozen beds is simply inadequate. He said he hopes, in that light, the Public Health and Health Planning Council will now reconsider its recent key vote in favor of the Mount Sinai rebuilding project.