By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Mount Sinai Beth Israel will be making space available in the First Avenue hospital in order to provide additional capacity for New Yorkers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospital system confirmed this week. Governor Andrew Cuomo also signed an executive order on Monday requiring all hospitals in the state to increase their capacity by 50%, with the goal of increasing capacity by 100%.
Mount Sinai would not specify exactly how many beds can be made available because that determination is made by the state’s Department of Health, but the hospital system confirmed that it is making space available in the unused portions of Beth Israel on First Avenue and the new Rivington facility, which is a former nursing home that Mount Sinai intends to convert into a mental health facility that will include services currently available at the Bernstein Pavilion. The hospital system has been in contact with the state since the pandemic began and the Department of Health is in the process of evaluating all of the options for creating additional hospital beds.
“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,” a spokesperson for Mount Sinai said. “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.”
Assemblymember Harvey Epstein specified that hospitals throughout the city and state are not yet at capacity but the concern is that the system will get overwhelmed and there may be shortages in the next couple of weeks.
“We don’t really know what the arc of this looks like but we’re preparing for as much as possible,” he said. “There’s potential [to increase capacity] for the Javits Center, the floating hospital and college dorms. At this point, all the space that Beth Israel has and all the space across the [Mount Sinai] system can be used. The whole building could be converted into bed space if they need it.”
Councilmember Keith Powers, whose district starts across the avenue from Mount Sinai Beth Israel, said that he had heard the call from the mayor’s and governor’s offices for hospitals to increase their capacity by at least 50% and he had wanted to know if the city and state were considering Beth Israel since the space is currently underutilized.
“[The mayor’s office] said it’s been one of the places under discussion [to expand capacity],” Powers said. “I’ve also had some constituents raise the question to me and was reminded that we had a hospital being underutilized that could be used to treat people in a moment when we need it.”
The number of beds at Mount Sinai Beth Israel was an ongoing issue for the hospital prior to the pandemic because of the hospital’s plan to decrease the number of beds in a new facility at East 14th Street and Second Avenue that would be replacing the old hospital. The transformation plan calls for downsizing the 799-bed hospital to 220 beds, with 150 beds of those allocated to behavioral health, reducing the 649 medical-surgical beds to 70.
State Senator Brad Hoylman and other local elected officials have been pushing Mount Sinai since the project was announced to reconsider the reduction in beds, and Hoylman said this week that this crisis demonstrates why there should be more consumer representation on the Public Health and Health Planning Council (PHHPC), which makes decisions about bed allocation for hospitals in New York State and other public health issues.
Hoylman argued that the review board is mainly comprised of hospital operators so the council is biased in favor of industry, with only one member that represents the general public.
“This is a really obvious example of why hospital closures and downsizing are extremely dangerous for public health,” Hoylman said of the pandemic. “We need a better process. This is exhibit A in why the reduction of beds can be extremely dangerous.”