Advocates call for transparency on MSBI downsizing

Anthony Feliciano, director of the Commission on the Public’s Health System (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Non-profit organizations and healthcare advocates are urging the community to demand transparency when it comes to the planned downsizing of Mount Sinai Beth Israel.

The subject was discussed at a meeting held by the Lower Manhattan chapter of the New York Progressive Action Network, a coalition of progressive activist groups, at the property service workers’ union 32BJ SEIU’s headquarters on West 18th Street last Thursday.

Anthony Feliciano, director of the Commission on the Public’s Health System, moderated the meeting, which was attended by over 100 people. He encouraged the public to contact the Department of Health about the project and demand a community needs study, which the hospital system has said it will not be doing.

Arthur Schwartz, the Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village, said that residents should also demand an environmental impact study and encouraged the neighborhood to resist zoning changes for the areas where current Beth Israel buildings will be sold, to prevent developers from building luxury high-rises.

“At St. Vincent’s, we lost because they went into bankruptcy but Mount Sinai doesn’t want to take Beth Israel into bankruptcy,” Schwartz said, referring to the closure of St. Vincent’s in Greenwich Village in 2010. “The state has power here and we have to demand transparency during this process. It’s basically (Mount Sinai’s) own plan and not based at all on input from elected officials or the community.”

Merger Watch director Lois Uttley, whose organization has studied the effects of hospital system mergers in a number of different states, also urged members of the community to demand more open communication about the plan from Mount Sinai and encouraged residents to question how the project is being pushed forward.

“Mount Sinai is using the limited review process and plans for the certificate of need are still pending but there is no required public notification when hospitals file a certificate of need through a limited review,” Uttley said. “The certificate of need process is supposed to increase transparency but it can be hard to navigate and fully understand.”

Anthony Feliciano with some of the meeting attendees

Schwartz noted that Mount Sinai is using the limited review rather than the full review process because the project has been broken into different pieces instead of considering it whole, and he encouraged residents to put pressure on the Department of Health to require a full review so Mount Sinai is required to notify the public about changes.

“We want the State Department of Health to create a public review process and take it to the governor,” he said.

One incoming medical resident who did not want to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak on behalf of Mount Sinai Beth Israel said that he isn’t sure what his job situation will be like at the hospital beyond the scope of the project. He said that he’s beginning the program this summer and has been guaranteed a position for the next three years throughout the new facility’s construction, which is expected to be complete by 2021, but doesn’t know yet if he’ll be able to get a position once the project is complete.

Mount Sinai Beth Israel has said that union employees will be guaranteed positions within the system despite the changes to the hospital, but the resident at the meeting last week said that he and others he works with feel a connection with the community and want to remain at the medical center nearby.

UPDATE: MSBI spokesperson Loren Riegelhaupt responded to T&V’s request for comment on Wednesday.

“In the past year we have had the pleasure of hosting two public forums (the last in April), attending dozens of smaller group meetings with elected officials, community leaders, community boards and other community-based organizations as well as creating a website that provides updates and a deeper understanding about the project, all in the hopes of answering questions and addressing any concerns,” Riegelhaupt said. “As with any project of this nature there are bound to be questions and at times misunderstandings, which is why we have been, and remain, 100% committed to being as open and transparent as possible. We continue to work closely with the local leaders, elected officials and DOH to bring a new era of improved and more accessible healthcare to our downtown residents and neighbors.”

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