BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Updated Dec. 22, 6:30 p.m.: Hold your hospital-bed horses!
The State Department of Health on Thursday told Mount Sinai it must immediately stop closing inpatient beds at Beth Israel — as part of its hospital shutdown plan — without first getting D.O.H. approval.
Mount Sinai recently announced it intends to unplug the iconic, full-service hospital on July 12, claiming it is simply “too big” and a massive money loser. But advocates and local politicians charge the health system has already been illegally moving services and departments out of the Gramercy hospital — in advance of the state’s official O.K.
Mount Sinai, in fact, already has submitted a closure plan to state D.O.H. for Beth Israel — yet, the scheme is still pending approval.
In an e-mail to local politicians, Sam Miller, the D.O.H. assistant commissioner for external affairs, wrote, “Today we issued a cease and desist order to Beth Israel directing the hospital to immediately stop closing beds and services without prior approval from the Department of Health. The feedback and information you gave us at our meeting on 11/30 was very helpful. In the last few weeks, we followed up on your concerns and confirmed that the hospital was closing beds and services in an unlawful way, which led to the action we have taken today.”
The Village Sun queried a Mount Sinai spokesperson about the D.O.H. order, and asked if this pushes back the timetable for the closure plan.
“We have received the letter and are reviewing it,” Loren Riegelhaupt responded. “As we have always said, the health and safety of our patients are — and must remain — our top priorities.”
The D.O.H. cease-and-desist letter was addressed to Elizabeth Sellman, president and C.E.O. of Mount Sinai Beth Israel, and bore the names of Governor Hochul and Health Commissioner James McDonald at the top of the page. It was signed by Stephanie Shulman, D.O.H. director of the Division of Hospitals and Diagnostic & Treatment Centers.
The letter noted that Mount Sinai submitted its closure plan on Oct. 25 — then submitted an addendum on Nov. 17, saying the hospital would close even sooner due to “decreased patient utilization [and] a number of staff resignations as a result of the planned closure that, coupled together, will impact on the delivery of services as [Mount Sinai Beth Israel] moves toward full closure.”
Shulman’s letter warned that each day Mount Sinai is in violation of the cease-and-desist order would result in a $2,000 fine.
The letter concludes: “Please provide a written response confirming that no changes in operation will occur and that Mount Sinai Beth Israel will desist from any closure of beds or services until approval has been received from the Department.”
Assemblymember Harvey Epstein is part of the united front of elected officials who are fighting to keep the cherished and vital E. 16th Street health facility open. At a rally to save the hospital last week, Epstein noted, “It’s personal” for him — noting his children were born there — just as it is for so many other community members.
In a statement, the assemblymember said, “After a meeting with the New York State Department of Health, in which we along with other elected officials raised numerous concerns about Mount Sinai’s premature actions to close services and beds at Beth Israel Hospital, today the department issued a cease-and-desist letter to Beth Israel, directing the hospital to immediately stop closing beds and services without prior approval from the Department of Health. This is a welcome announcement for our community and we will continue to fight to protect healthcare for our neighbors.”
In addition, the entire delegation of local politicians representing Downtown and Lower Manhattan — including Epstein, state Senators Kristen Gonzalez, Brian Kavanagh and Liz Krueger; Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and and Tony Simone; Councilmembers Carlina Rivera, Keith Powers, Christopher Marte and Erik Bottcher; Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine; Congressmembers Jerrold Nadler and Daniel Goldman — issued the following joint statement:
“As elected officials representing Lower Manhattan, we are pleased that the New York State Department of Health has issued a cease-and-desist letter to Beth Israel, directing the hospital to immediately stop closing beds and services at its 16th Street campus without prior approval from the department. The delegation met with the department last month to express our urgent concerns and elevate the protests of our constituents; chief among our concerns was our understanding that Mt. Sinai could not close services at this location without approval from the department. We thank everyone who has joined this effort and shares in this victory for our community. We appreciate the opportunity to have worked with the department to halt the unlawful termination of services and will continue to work closely together with the department and our community to ensure continuous access to the critical healthcare services we need.”
Arthur Schwartz, a West Village Democratic district leader and activist attorney, at a public forum on the shutdown plan last month, warned that the unauthorized closing down of Beth Israel services would be grounds for a lawsuit.
Schwartz told The Village Sun that he will be filing the suit this coming Tuesday.
“We will double down on it in court next week,” he said of Mount Sinai’s jumping the gun on the shutdown plan. “Beth Israel has ordered 50 staff to report elsewhere on Jan. 1 — and hasn’t rescinded that direction. We’ll be meeting with Beth Israel staff this weekend.”