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Beth Israel is a key lifeline; We can’t lose it

Paul Newell.
Paul Newell.

BY PAUL NEWELL | While plans for closing Mount Sinai Beth Israel have yet to be confirmed, it seems evident from reporting in The Villager and elsewhere that closure plans are well underway.

Lower Manhattan is a vibrant community. The 65th Assembly District — which I represent as a Democratic district leader — has 150,000 men, women and children of all ages and backgrounds, who work hard to support their families and make their communities a great place.

For most of the Lower East Side and Chinatown, Mount Sinai Beth Israel is the shortest ambulance ride away. In such emergencies, the extra minutes in New York City traffic can mean life or death. Furthermore, if Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital closes, we will be even more dependent on hospitals located in Flood Zone 1.

The reality is that our community was among the hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy. We are the largest city in the U.S., and among the premier cities of the world. For us to have so few flood-protected hospitals for the millions of residents and workers in central and Lower Manhattan, and only one remaining hospital (New York-Presbyterian / Lower Manhattan Hospital) serving Lower Manhattan, is not only outrageous, it’s callous, shortsighted and extremely poor urban planning.

In 2010, I co-founded the Coalition for a New Village Hospital in response to the threatened closure of St. Vincent’s Hospital. We fought for years, but eventually that 161-year-old community lifeline was cut.

In 2013, I fought with our neighbors against the closure of Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital, and that hospital was closed as well. Now it seems that they’re ready to cut one of our final lifelines, which is not only an affront to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, it’s an abject threat.

Healthcare in a city of 8.5 million residents needs to be about resource allocation based on need, not on real estate prices or the corporate bottom line. How would this area survive a disaster like September 11 with no local hospital? Clearly, the people making the decisions aren’t the same people who will be left without a hospital.

I want to take this moment to state my strong support for SEIU 1199 and the New York State Nurses’ Association’s efforts to prevent Certificate of Need regulations from being tampered with by corporations. Decisions like removing hospital service literally impact who lives and who dies — and the proper way to make these decisions is not by informing the staff and then putting a gag on them. Rather, it’s by involving the community that will be impacted, not to mention the workers of the hospital, in a collaborative needs assessment.

I call on the board of Mount Sinai Health Systems to reconsider their decision immediately, and on the powers that be in New York City to make very clear that this decision is at best premature, and at worst incredibly dangerous.

I will be following this story as it develops, and reaching out to partners in healthcare advocacy and throughout our communities, so we can make sure our needs for healthcare are addressed, regardless of the corporate bottom line.

Subsequent to The Villager’s article, executives at Mount Sinai have responded that they have no intent of shutting down the Beth Israel campus. I sincerely hope this is true. In the meantime, it is vital that we hold them accountable to their mission.

The state Legislature and the governor should inform Mount Sinai that any changes to Beth Israel’s Certificate of Need will be opposed. Likewise, the City Council and Mayor de Blasio should inform Mount Sinai that any deed or zoning changes at the hospital’s current Gramercy site that endanger the health of New Yorkers will be blocked.

Newell is a Democratic district leader and a candidate for Lower Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District in the upcoming September primary election

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