By Sabina Mollot
On Wednesday, the Mount Sinai Health System confirmed reports that Beth Israel would be downsizing, due to its property’s aging infrastructure and changing needs in the healthcare industry, but also said it was creating a new downtown “network” of facilities that will include a smaller Beth Israel hospital on 14th Street and Second Avenue.
The new facility, which is expected to have a price tag of $250 million, will be adjacent to the Mount Sinai’s New York Eye and Ear Infirmary and the two hospitals will share some infrastructure. Some of that money will go towards “enhanced” services at Eye and Ear. The new hospital will have 70 beds and a “state-of-the art” emergency department. This is a drastic reduction from its current number of beds, which is 856.
In its announcement, Mount Sinai cited a lack of demand for those beds, even after the closure of St. Vincent’s in 2010. In fact, the company said, demand for inpatient beds at its own hospital and others, including Bellevue and NYU Langone, has declined.
“On average, less than sixty percent of the hospital’s licensed beds are occupied and patient volume at the financially troubled hospital has decreased by double digits since 2012,” the hospital said.
However, Mount Sinai said that should demand for beds increase, they’d be added at the new building. The transition, which will focus on “expanded primary, specialty, behavioral and outpatient surgery services” is expected to take four years. In the meantime, Mount Sinai said services at the current Beth Israel campus will continue uninterrupted.
This follows a recent report in Crain’s that said Beth Israel and its affiliates lost $85.6 million in the first nine months of 2015, citing financial statements.
“That red ink exceeded a budgeted $75.6 million loss and rivaled the hospital’s $90.7 million loss for all of 2014,” the report said.
In an attempt to adapt to the evolving healthcare field, which has seen a shift towards ambulatory care, Mount Sinai said it will invest $500 million to create its “Mount Sinai Downtown” network. This will also include upgrades to its Bernstein Pavilion building in Stuyvesant Square, which is home to methadone and addiction programs as well as psychiatric services. There will also be a “substantial investment” in the Phillips Ambulatory Care Center in Union Square where renovations are apparently already underway. Departments that will be expanded include endoscopy and there will be additional surgical services. Additionally, by 2017, Mount Sinai said it expects to add a comprehensive urgent care center there with weekend and evening hours.
“For several years, we have been transforming the Mount Sinai Health System toward a new model of care,” said Kenneth L. Davis, MD, president and CEO of Mount Sinai, “where the focus on keeping entire communities healthy and out of the hospital. Mount Sinai Downtown is a dramatic next step that will enable us to improve access and increase quality by providing care for residents of downtown Manhattan where they live and work.”
The announcement came after two weeks of speculation by the community and the hospital employees after an initial report in The Villager that quoted staff members who’d been warned of an impending closure, at least of the main campus across from Stuyvesant Town on First Avenue. Last fall, the hospital revealed that it openly hoped to downsize Beth Israel, according to a report in Capital New York.
Last week, Mount Sinai responded to the panicking of the community and its employees, albeit cryptically, that it would in fact be “enhancing” services and adding facilities. Soon after, local elected officials pressed them for further details and a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio told Town & Village he was dedicated to preventing the “sudden closure of hospitals.”
Meanwhile, jobs at Beth Israel have been shed since Mount Sinai’s takeover from Continuum in 2013 and an employee noted that one building, Gilman Hall, which houses medical residents, was already being cleared out.
This week, a spokesperson for the hospital, when asked if the facility on First Avenue and 16th Street would be going on the market during the transition, the response was yes, that properties owned by the hospital, except for the Bernstein Pavilion, would eventually be sold. The money would then go back into the Mount Sinai downtown campus.
This coincides with what an employee had previously told Town & Village she and others had been told by hospital administration; that the First Avenue building was too old and would be of better use to a developer looking to turn it into condos. So when hearing the news on Wednesday, it wasn’t a big shock. Still, she said she wondered what departments might be on the chopping block or reduced next, noting pediatrics and neonatal had already been shrunk.
According to Mount Sinai, under its new plan, as many jobs as possible will be preserved within the hospital’s network, and those employees that don’t get kept on will “receive help finding new employment.” Mount Sinai said it was committed however to offering its affected unionized employees other jobs at equal pay. A hospital rep didn’t get back to us on if this deal included equal benefits and/or pensions.
However, with over 4,000 of those union members working as nurses and caregivers at Beth Israel alone, the commitment to save jobs has been endorsed by the union.
“We are proud of the commitment we have been able to reach with Mount Sinai, which will preserve access to quality healthcare, fulfill the need for additional community services and protect good jobs,” said George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.
In response to the plan, Council Member Dan Garodnick said he had some concern about the sharp decrease in the number of inpatient beds and wondered if a trimmed down hospital could meet the community’s needs.
“MSHS’ proposal for a new, state-of-the-art emergency room that can handle heart, stroke and pediatric emergencies is welcome and much needed,” Garodnick said. “However, the planned reduction of licensed in-patient beds from 856 to 70 raises real questions about whether that is adequate capacity for the downtown community; what percentage of patients would need to be moved for appropriate treatment; and how Mount Sinai would expand the number of beds if that proved necessary. In addition, it is unclear what specialty services would be offered at the new site.”
He added, “We will also be taking a hard look at Mount Sinai’s plans for its real estate, and will work to ensure that a purchaser of any of the sites respects the existing community character.”
Mount Sinai hasn’t indicated there would be changes to its other downtown locations, which include Cancer Care West on West 15th Street, NYEE of Tribeca and a few of its methadone clinics.
The hospital, originally located on the Lower East Side, was founded by Orthodox Jews in 1890 (some say Polish and Russian Jewish immigrants). It moved to its current location in what was then a new building in the Stuyvesant Square neighborhood in 1929.