By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Despite the usually-slower summer months, community groups have remained focused on Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s downsizing plan, which includes drastically reducing the number of hospital beds. The Gramercy-Stuyvesant Independent Democratic Club hosted a recent forum to provide updates, although representatives from local hospitals, including MSBI, were unavailable to attend the meeting.
Community Board 3 Chair Jamie Rogers said that the community board, along with Boards 2 and 6, has recently been involved in a working group organized by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
“The main asks (of the group) are to maximize community participation and make sure that the State Department of Health is actually listening to our concerns,” Rogers said. “The DOH isn’t the most community-minded of our bureaucracies. We have trouble getting them to our events.”
Judy Wessler, who has been working in community health planning for 40 years, was involved in a task force around the closure of St. Vincent’s but she said that one of the main differences between that situation and the plan for MSBI is that the discussion around St. Vincent’s mainly started only once the hospital had closed.
“There was a strong community push for a new hospital to be built but that hasn’t happened to this point,” she said. “As somebody who has done community health planning work, I was concerned about what I was hearing but because the hospital is still open, there’s maybe some possibility to influence what they’re proposing.”
Rogers said that the working group pushed MSBI to use an external agency to conduct the mandatory community health needs assessment but said that the working group is trying to gather additional data from local stakeholders and community groups, which aren’t necessarily part of the formal working group.
Focus groups comprised of local stakeholders are also expected to begin meeting this summer and MSBI spokesman Loren Riegelhaupt said that getting input from the community is a “priority” for the hospital. He said that MSBI is committed to continuing to work with the working group for ideas and feedback on the plan, but noted that the project is governed by guidelines put forth by the Department of Health.
Riegelhaupt also confirmed that the hospital has hired an outside firm, Verite, to conduct the community health needs assessment.
“However, it’s important to note that this assessment is just one of the tools that we use when considering strategic decisions about long-term operational decisions on how best to serve the community,” he added. “At the end of the day, the whole point of this transformation is to ensure that we are doing everything we can to be responsive to the needs of the community.”
Representatives from the State Department of Health did not respond to Town & Village’s request for comment on MSBI’s transformation plan.