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Beth Israel Hospital reactivating 400 unused beds for COVID surge

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated, Tues., April 7, 1:30 p.m.: Mount Sinai Health System confirmed to The Village Sun on Monday that it will be opening up hundreds of currently idle beds at Beth Israel Hospital to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

As of now, 50 formerly mothballed beds at Mount Sinai Beth Israel have already been prepared to accept either COVID-19 patients or other patients. But Mount Sinai is going further, committing to throw a total of hundreds of unused beds at Beth Israel back into action.

On the other hand, despite a Lower East Side activist’s plea, Mount Sinai said no beds to help with hospital overflow have been installed at the vacant former Rivington House AIDS hospice, where the health system is creating a new behavioral health facility. 

“MSBI has added 50 additional beds [at Beth Israel] and expects to expand [that] to nearly 400 beds,” a Mount Sinai spokesperson told The Village Sun. “There are no additional beds at Rivington. We will continue to keep you posted.”

The spokesperson clarified that the 400 beds figure refers to “additional space that can be used for either COVID or other [patients]” — meaning this is 400 beds beyond what Beth Israel normally has been using up until now.

Last week, Mayor de Blasio said it’s possible that all 20,000 hospital beds in New York City would have to be converted to intensive-care beds for coronavirus patients. This despite the fact that the Javits Center has been transformed into a massive temporary field hospital.

Anticipating that need, three weeks ago, Village attorney Arthur Schwartz and hospital advocate Penny Mintz rallied outside Beth Israel, demanding that the hundreds of unused beds at the Gramercy hospital be put back into action for the expected COVID-19 surge.

Although Beth Israel is licensed for 799 beds — including 150 behavioral health (psychiatric) beds — it has been using less than half of those in recent years. Prior to the pandemic, on any given day there were only about 150 medical/surgical inpatients at Beth Israel, according to the spokesperson.

Asked if the newly beefed-up hospital would have enough doctors, nurses and ventilators to deal with the dire situation, the spokesperson assured they are currently focusing on that.

“We are working closely with the city, state and federal government on this,” she said. “We are doing everything we can to secure appropriate ventilators and clinical staff for surge capacity.”

After The Village Sun reported on the rally, Mount Sinai said that it had already been working closely with the city and state during the COVID crisis and had offered unused portions of Beth Israel, as well as Rivington House, to help fight the outbreak. 

Another hospital spokesperson further slammed the rally as “a publicity stunt by aspiring politicians.”

Schwartz, who is a Democratic district leader, recently announced he is running for City Council District 3. Mintz is running for Democratic State Committee.

Meanwhile, in a plan announced four years ago, Mount Sinai intends to close Beth Israel, at 16th St. and First Ave., and build a new mini-hospital at 13th St. and Second Ave. with just 70 inpatient beds. 

Schwartz — who had an angioplasty at Beth Israel a few years ago after suffering a heart attack — is suing Mount Sinai to keep the hospital open. 

Separately, a few days before Schwartz and Mintz’s rally, K Webster e-mailed Mount Sinai C.E.O. Dr. Jeremy Boal, pitching the idea of putting Rivington House, at Rivington and Forsyth Sts., to use to help fight the plague. Boal responded enthusiastically to Webster, e-mailing her back, “We absolutely agree with you and we are making sure that the city and state know about this facility [Rivington House] and do with it whatever is best for us to all get through this.”

The former AIDS hospice housed more than 200 beds.

However, last week Webster said while there is now, in fact, work going on at Rivington House, it doesn’t appear to be related to the COVID crisis.

“They are doing some kind of construction,” she said, “but my impression was that it was to ready [the building] for their eventual behavioral health programming.”

Also last week, a former Beth Israel pulmonary doctor contacted The Village Sun, saying that he and other current and former doctors there had been pushing to bring the historic hospital’s offline beds back online during the pandemic. While saving Beth Israel might be impossible at this point, he conceded, they feel that having the hospital help fight the virus would be a fitting finale.

“Even if the place was doomed,” he said, “it would be a fitting coda to an institution that was created to help the indigent on the Lower East Side.”

Still a working physician, he requested anonymity. 

The doctor figured Beth Israel must have about 30 former intensive-care unit beds that could be dusted off and put back into use.

In general, he said, Beth Israel never got credit for all the good that it did.

“During Hurricane Sandy, N.Y.U. Hospital and Bellevue got flooded,” he recalled. “Beth Israel kept going; the E.R. was converted into an emergency dialysis center for displaced patients from other hospitals.”

“On 9/11, Beth Israel was going to do ‘treat and release’: They were going to eat [the patients’ costs],” he said. “Sadly, most people died.

“They were the Rodney Dangerfield of hospitals — everybody kicks sand in their faces,” he reflected. “Compared to N.Y.U. and Mount Sinai, they were just the Lower East Side hospital.” 

Mount Sinai Health System merged with Beth Israel in 2013.

Meanwhile, on the West Side, as previously reported by The Village Sun, Northwell Health has added 31 beds to Lenox Health Greenwich Village to help during the pandemic. However, these beds will not be used to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients, but to help address hospital overflow during the crisis, according to Northwell.

L.H.G.V., a stand-alone emergency department and comprehensive care center, normally does not have any hospital beds attached to it. It opened after the loss of the full-service St. Vincent’s Hospital, which closed in 2010.

Clarification: The original version of this article stated that, according to information provided by Mount Sinai Health System in a lawsuit, up to 225 general surgical/inpatient beds were in use at Beth Israel prior to the pandemic. However, according to a hospital spokesperson, the actual number of those type of beds in use on a daily basis was 150.

2 Comments

  1. P. Pier P. Pier April 7, 2020

    Is MountSinai in the Real Estate business?
    It seems that they are gobbling up Beth Israel, and again tossing the residents of the East Village and Lower East Side aside,
    Leaving us abandoned and without adequate hospital care.

  2. Penny Mintz Penny Mintz April 7, 2020

    I am, indeed, running to become the female member of the Democratic Party state committee in the 66th Assembly District. This is a party position, not a public office. It confers no pay or other benefits but would be a voice, however small, in focusing the Democratic Party on the issues that matter to us, like saving our local hospitals. These hospitals are more than health care providers. They are major employers and movers of the local economy. Replacing Beth Israel with more high-end housing will be a travesty.

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