BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | COVID changes everything — especially about health. And that includes Mount Sinai Health System’s plan to downsize Beth Israel Hospital, too.
The Village Sun has learned that Mount Sinai is now reconsidering whether it’s still a good idea to shrink the historic Gramercy healthcare facility.
Back in 2016, Mount Sinai, just three years after merging with Beth Israel Hospital, announced it was setting in motion a plan to downsize it. The vision was to replace the existing hospital with a new mini version — with just 70 inpatient beds — to be built a couple of blocks south in the East Village, at 14th St. and Second Ave.
The downsizing scheme, however, was immediately met with howls of opposition from the surrounding community and local politicians, who slammed it as inadequate to meet the area’s healthcare needs.
Further ratcheting up the resistance, three years ago, Arthur Schwartz, the Village’s Democratic district leader, who is currently running for City Council in District 3, filed a lawsuit to keep the existing Beth Israel open.
Fast-forward to this past March, after the pandemic hit and officials were warning of a surge of COVID patients. Schwartz and Penny Mintz, then running for Democratic State Committee, held a press conference in front of Beth Israel demanding that Mount Sinai reopen 600 of the First Ave. hospital’s beds that the two politicos claimed were being “warehoused.”
A Mount Sinai spokesperson fired back then that the health system had already been in talks with the city and state, and just the previous week had offered its unused portion at Beth Israel, “long before any publicity stunts by aspiring politicians.”
At any rate, Mount Sinai eventually reopened 400 of the mothballed Beth Israel beds — and today they reportedly remain open for use.
Now, however, word has it that the pandemic has forced Mount Sinai to reevaluate its plans for Beth Israel “through a post-pandemic lens.” In short, Mount Sinai is doing a fresh analysis of the downsizing scenario to decide if it’s the right step to take at this moment.
In a statement to The Village Sun, a Mount Sinai spokesperson confirmed that all options are now “back on the table.”
“The pandemic has changed our world and radically impacted proposed healthcare projects across the country,” the statement said. “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.
“We ask for the community’s continued patience and understanding as we reevaluate every option available to ensure that we build what is best for the patients and communities we serve at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. Again, the only option that we absolutely will not consider is closing the hospital; all other options remain up for consideration and analysis as we continue to work with local community and elected leaders in the weeks and months ahead. In the meantime, MSBI and all our hospitals remain fully open and accessible for all patients.”
At a City Council candidates forum Wednesday night, Councilmember Carlina Rivera, chairperson of the Council’s Committee on Hospitals, and Erik Bottcher, chief of staff to Council Speaker Corey Johnson, both briefly mentioned that they had heard there had been a shift in thinking on the Beth Israel downsizing plan.
“I know there was some good news about MSBI, which is great,” Rivera said.
“I’m told now they are rethinking the decision to downsize,” Bottcher said. Just before that, he had stated, “Even if we need to take legal action, we cannot allow Beth Israel to downsize.”
For his part, Schwartz said he’s glad to hear the news — and also that the hundreds of beds he called for to be reactivated are still available for use.
“That’s great,” he said. “They upsized and haven’t downsized.”