BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Local politicians, hospital workers and union representatives rallied outside Beth Israel Hospital last week in response to Mount Sinai’s sudden announcement that it plans to close the historic hospital by July 12.
The public was alerted only in late October of the intention to shutter the Gramercy-based health hub in less than one year.
If Beth Israel is taken offline, just one small hospital would be left south of 23rd Street — New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan, with only 200 beds to serve the entirety of the area’s 400,000 residents.
For its part, Mount Sinai says the Beth Israel campus is “too big” and has been bleeding money for years, including losing $150 million this year alone. Its officials say the Mount Sinai Downtown network of scattered site facilities — especially its 10 Union Square East location, at more than 300,000 square feet — plus, dozens of private urgent-care centers in Manhattan south of 42nd Street, will be able to pick up the slack. However, none of these facilities have inpatient beds, save for Mount Sinai’s new behavioral and substance-abuse center on Rivington Street.
Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who led the rally, said she organized it quickly because time is running out to save Beth Israel.
“It is devastating for any community to hear that a hospital is closing,” she said, “especially this community, which has seen hospital closures and disinvestment from health systems in favor of locations on the West Side and Uptown. As we face a short timeline and reduction of services at Beth Israel, the State Department of Health must work quickly to stabilize Mt. Sinai’s operations in the short term, while looking for long-term solutions to ensure quality healthcare for Lower Manhattan.
Rivera called on the governor, State Department of Health and federal government “to invest needed resources into Lower Manhattan so that we do not lose our hospital.”
“We need Mount Sinai people to work with us,” Rivera stressed.
“It is not fair, it is not just, it is not equitable to have [only] one hospital south of 23rd Street,” she declared.
“Fight! Fight! Fight! Healthcare is a human right!” the crowd chanted.
“Will grandpa live? or die!” a sign in the crowd asked, ominously.
Lois Uttley, the co-founder of Community Voices for Health System Accountability and a respected local voice in healthcare, said the disparity in health coverage would become even more glaring if Beth Israel is lost.
“Lower Manhattan already has too few hospital beds to serve the patients who live here,” Uttley said. “Below 14th Street, there is less than one hospital bed for every 1,000 people, compared to 5.4 beds for Manhattan as a whole and more than 10 beds per 1,000 people on the Upper East Side. The closure of Beth Israel would remove the closet hospital for thousands of people in Lower Manhattan and exacerbate existing inequities in access to needed hospital care.
“If you close this hospital, Bellevue is going to be overrun,” she warned, adding, “A lot of people don’t feel that comfortable at N.Y.U. [Langone],” due to lack of language access and Medicaid acceptance issues.
Borough President Mark Levine said if Beth Israel’s psychiatric emergency room was gone it would be a serious blow. He added that Manhattan south of 23rd Street has almost as many people as the entire city of Atlanta.
“The reality is that Mount Sinai does not want to negotiate,” Assemblymember Harvey Epstein accused. “We have to bring them to the table. They’ve taken all the profitable services out of this building. Mount Sinai wants to get hundreds of millions of dollars from this site.”
Recalling how St. Vincent’s Hospital closed down in 2010 after its leadership initially said they would build a new hospital, Assemblymember Deborah Glick said, “I have been through this movie before. … The State Department of Health told us, ‘Don’t worry. You have Beth Israel.’
“We understand that healthcare is changing and there is more ambulatory care and they don’t need as many hospital beds,” Glick said. “But we still need hospital beds.”
The West Side politician said they won’t allow the hospital to close and, if necessary, would do “a sit-in.”
Assemblymember Tony Simone echoed, “I remember part one of this horror movie — St. Vincent’s. We cannot have a part two of this horror movie. You cannot abandon Lower Manhattan for profit. … Governor Hochul,” he warned, “get ready for the phone calls and the onslaught.”
Other politician speakers included Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Councilmembers Keith Powers, Erik Bottcher and Christopher Marte.
Noting he was “a Beth Israel baby,” Marte said, “We all know what this is — it’s a real estate transaction. Beth Israel was the only hospital working during Sandy,” he recalled. “We have to draw the line here today and say, ‘No more hospital closings.'”
“We’ve all seen predatory loans for banks,” Williams said. “This is a predatory plan. Stop the greed! Fulfill the need!”
“This is a West Side issue,” Bottcher said. “This is an East Side issue. Healthcare is a right!”