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State Health Dept. rejects Beth Israel closure plan as ‘incomplete’

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | In a major win for the community, the New York State Department of Health has rejected Mt. Sinai Health System’s closure plan for Beth Israel as “incomplete,” telling the healthcare giant to submit a new, more comprehensive plan if it wants to proceed with the historic Gramercy hospital’s shutdown.

On April 2, Douglas Fish, the acting deputy commissioner of D.O.H.’s Office of Primary Care and Health Systems Management, wrote to Elizabeth Sellman, president and C.O.O. of Mt. Sinai Beth Israel, stating, “The closure plan is incomplete and is being returned.”

The D.O.H. official further noted, under existing rules and regulations, “No medical facility shall discontinue operation or surrender its operating certificate unless 90 days’ notice of its intention to do so is given to the [D.O.H.] commissioner
and his written approval obtained.”

This past September, Mt. Sinai announced its plan to pull the plug on Beth Israel, submitting its closure plan several months ago. Although D.O.H. never O.K.’d the full shutdown scenario, the scheme’s opponents have accused Mt. Sinai of nevertheless trying to reduce the hospital’s services bit by bit — even in the face of a subsequent cease-and-desist order from the Health Department.

In addition, Fish wrote in his recent letter, all area politicians — at the city, state and federal levels — must be properly notified of the closure plan, and hospital staff must also be notified.

“The [healthcare] provider,” Fish continued, “must also hold a public meeting, where the Chief Executive Officer or the Chief Operating Officer attends and answers questions, that allows for advance notice to stakeholders and allows for public comments regarding the closure.”

The D.O.H. acting deputy commissioner further stressed Mt. Sinai must show that other nearby health facilities would be able to provide adequate healthcare for the area should Beth Israel Hospital be closed.

“In the closure plan,” Fish wrote, “please provide detailed information about your discussions with other hospitals in the surrounding area…regarding their capability and capacity to accept additional inpatient, emergency department and outpatient volume of patients for medical-surgical care and behavioral healthcare. … Mount Sinai Beth Israel must work with other providers to identify, confirm and explore possible partnerships or solutions to support the availability of emergency services and the capacity to respond to emergencies.”

Also, Fish continued, since Mt. Sinai claims Beth Israel has been an unsustainable “financial loss” over the past two years, it must provide “the last three years of audited financials for Mount Sinai Beth Israel and the Mount Sinai Health System, to demonstrate how the Beth Israel Hospital is adversely impacting Mount Sinai Health System’s financial stability.”

Fish also said Mt. Sinai must “clarify” how patient volume at Beth Israel has declined over the past 10 years, when Mt. Sinai itself has told D.O.H., in response to questions on the closure plan, that patient visits have increased over the past three years. Similarly, Beth Israel’s financials have actually reportedly been trending up in the past two years.

In touting the news, Arthur Schwartz, the Greenwich Village activist attorney who is fighting the Beth Israel closure plan in court, said, “This does not mean that our fight is over, but it is a major setback for the Mt. Sinai behemoth.” The D.O.H. letter, along with his ongoing court case and local politicians’ support, he said, “hopefully will stop Beth Israel in its tracks, and result in them having to restaff and reopen the services our community needs so badly!”

Schwartz added that a Feb. 9 court-ordered temporary restraining order barring Beth Israel from reducing inpatient beds or services also applies to Mount Sinai’s nearby New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. D.O.H. has not approved a closure plan for NYEEI, either.

Schwartz noted the judge on the case told him, “Arthur, you won, the D.O.H. did what you wanted.” But the attorney wants more than just to halt the closure: He’s fighting to restore the Beth Israel services that have been cut.

“The judge, who noted that there is now no closure plan,” Schwartz said, “suggested that we try to negotiate with Mt. Sinai and D.O.H. about some potential restoration plan, since he had already ordered them to use ‘best efforts’ to restore services.'”

The next court date will be May 30.

Continuing their united front on Beth Israel, all the area’s politicians put out a joint statement hailing the D.O.H. rejection of the closure plan. Signing onto the statement were Congressmembers Dan Goldman and Jerry Nadler, state Senators Kristen Gonzalez and Brian Kavanagh, Assemblymembers Harvey Epstein, Deborah Glick and Tony Simone, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and City Councilmembers Carlina Rivera, Keith Powers and Erik Bottcher.

“The State Department of Health has returned Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s closure plan, calling it incomplete and citing inconsistencies in their submission,” they said. “This is a major win for our community, which has for months been raising the alarm about the negative effects this planned closure would have on access to healthcare in Lower Manhattan. While this is not an outright rejection of the plan, it brings more accountability to one of the biggest health systems in New York. We will continue working to protect healthcare access for over 400,000 New Yorkers in Lower Manhattan.”

Additionally, Councilmember Rivera issued her own statement, saying, “Our community has demonstrated how vital Beth Israel is for access to lifesaving healthcare, and this week we’ve won a significant victory with the State Department of Health returning Mt. Sinai’s application for closure, highlighting inconsistencies with patient census, and suggesting that, at the very least, the closure date would need to be changed. As Mt. Sinai reduces services, despite a cease-and-desist order, we see that people with complex and time-sensitive needs must travel further to emergency departments, with more patients, in order to receive the care they need. Bellevue Hospital, the next-closest hospital, has already reported an increase in visits since the proposed closure was announced. We cannot allow our public hospital systems to be overwhelmed and for Lower Manhattan to lose healthcare services,” Rivera said.

Loren Riegelhaupt, a Mt. Sinai spokesperson, said the health giant will provide the “supplemental information” D.O.H. has requested.

“We are in receipt of D.O.H.’s response to our proposed closure plan,” he said, “and look forward to working with them in providing the supplemental information they have requested, including updated data on Beth Israel’s deteriorating financial circumstances and greater details on all the communications the hospital has had with the community, staff and governmental officials.

“Despite investing hundreds of millions of dollars to support and enhance the hospital in the past decade, M.S.B.I. has lost over $1 billion,” the Sinai spokesperson said. “These continued and growing losses pose an existential threat to the viability of the overall [Mt. Sinai healthcare] system.

“Our goal from day one was to ensure a seamless and safe closure of M.S.B.I. for our patients and local community, and that remains the top priority today.”

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