BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated Tues, March 24, 9 a.m.: Amid dire warnings that COVID-19 could overwhelm the city’s hospitals, Mount Sinai Health System is now pledging to make hundreds of currently mothballed beds at Beth Israel Hospital available, if needed, to fight the pandemic.
A Mount Sinai spokesperson sent the following statement to The Village Sun on Saturday evening:
“In the past few weeks — and in the weeks ahead — our sole focus is helping the communities we serve prepare for and address the COVID-19 crisis. These are extremely unique and challenging times and we are doing everything in our power and utilizing every resource possible — including, but not limited to, offering the city and state usage of our Rivington facility and unused portions of Mount Sinai Beth Israel — to help fight this growing crisis.”
On Thursday, as The Village Sun first reported, Village District Leader Arthur Schwartz and Penny Mintz, an organizer with the Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel, held a press conference outside the Gramercy hospital. They called on Mount Sinai to stop “warehousing” the vacant beds and let them be used to treat coronavirus patients.
Schwartz said Beth Israel, at 16th St. and First Ave., is certified for 825 in-patient beds but currently uses only 225 of those — and that 600 beds were not being used.
In fact, Beth Israel is licensed for a total of 799 inpatient beds, including 150 behavioral health (psychiatric) beds at its Bernstein Pavilion facility. As of three years ago, Beth Israel was using a total of about 450 beds on a daily basis — including 300 general inpatient beds, plus the 150 behavioral health beds.
Schwartz said that, according to court documents, in terms of its general in-patient beds, Beth Israel now is using only 225.
Meanwhile, Mount Sinai is hoping to shrink that number even further under its plan to close the current Beth Israel and open a new mini-hospital at 13th St. and Second Ave. with a total of only 70 general in-patient beds. Behavioral health beds would be located in the former Rivington House AIDS facility on the Lower East Side.
The whole Beth Israel Hospital campus in Gramercy, including the Bernstein Pavilion, would be sold for development. Mount Sinai has said all the sale’s profits would go toward building the new mini-hospital, plus beefing up Mount Sinai’s outpatient care network covering Manhattan south of 34th St.
Schwartz is currently suing to stop the closure of Beth Israel.
Told by The Village Sun of Mount Sinai’s having agreed to make Beth Israel’s empty beds available during the virus crisis, Schwartz was heartened.
“That’s fantastic,” he said. “We succeeded in getting what we asked for. The next step is to get the Health commissioner [Howard Zucker] to deny the certificate of need. It’s a step in the right direction.”
Before Mount Sinai is allowed to close Beth Israel and build the replacement mini-hospital, it first must obtain a so-called certificate of need from the state Department of Health.
Schwartz, a Greenwich Village attorney, said he was spurred to hold the press conference — and demand that the unused beds be made available — after seeing an e-mail from Lower East Side activist K Webster about a similar idea. On Tuesday, Webster had reached out to Dr. Jeremy Boal, C.E.O. of Mount Sinai, about letting Rivington House be used for coronavirus patients, and he enthusiastically responded yes.
“We absolutely agree with you,” Boal wrote back to Webster, “and we are making sure that the city and state know about this facility and do with it whatever is best for us to all get through this. We are of one unified mind on all of this.”
Rivington House, at Forsyth and Rivington Sts., formerly housed 219 nursing home beds.
Both Schwartz and Webster said they were compelled to act after Governor Cuomo and others said space for more emergency hospital facilities had to be located to increase the surge capacity for coronavirus cases. Cuomo had mentioned the Javits Center while others had said Madison Square Garden, both venues now vacant, of course, due to the pandemic.
On Saturday morning, Cuomo announced that four sites had been identified for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to create temporary hospitals, including Javits, SUNY Stony Brook, SUNY Old Westbury and the Westchester Convention Center. In addition, he is requesting four 250-person “field hospitals.”
“Javits is so big that it can take the four field hospitals and an Army Corps of Engineers temporary hospital,” Cuomo said.
He planned to visit all four of the Army Corps sites on Saturday.
There was no mention, however, of using the hundreds of already existing Beth Israel Hospital beds.
Saturday evening, hours after Cuomo’s announcement that the temporary hospital sites had been identified, Mount Sinai told The Village Sun that it would make all of its unused Beth Israel beds available.
On Sunday, a Mount Sinai spokesperson denied that Schwartz’s press conference had any influence on the decision.
“I can confirm that we have been working closely with city and state since this crisis started (Sinai had the first confirmed COVID case in New York State) and offered our Rivington facility and unused portions of Mount Sinai Beth Israel last week, long before any publicity stunts by aspiring politicians,” the spokesperson said. “Frankly, we didn’t even know about the stunt, we are too focused on responding to the COVID crisis and saving lives.”
As first reported by The Village Sun, Schwartz intends to run for City Council District 3 (Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen), and plans to make an official announcement in a couple of weeks.
In related news, Cuomo also said the state would send 1 million high-protection N95 face masks to New York City on Saturday.
Re Beth Israel, we can thank Mount Sinai and Lois Uttley (Women’s Health Program Director Community Catalyst) and the Advocacy group Community Voices for Health System Accountability sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for “a moratorium on hospital closings and downsizings.”