Healthcare project raising neighbors’ blood pressure


By Aline Reynolds

A proposal to construct a new healthcare facility on the Lower East Side is pleasing some neighbors and infuriating others.

The HealthCare Chaplaincy plans to build a 16-story palliative-care center on a parking lot at 265-275 Cherry St. adjacent to a mixed-income residence. The center, which would be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certified, would lodge and provide support services for about 120 patients with cancer, congestive heart failure and other serious illnesses. It would also provide outpatient care.

“We want to have a place where people who might have three years to live could get spiritual support, medication management and have a place where they could make use of a lot of activities,” said Claire Altman, executive vice president and chief operating officer of HealthCare Chaplaincy.

The inpatients would receive constant physical and emotional care, as well as partake in pastimes such as card games, meditation and visual art. The multiprong service, Altman explained, “is a very useful component in the longer-care continuum that has not been met much.”

Construction of the $130 million center would begin in early 2012, with the building’s opening expected at the end of 2013. The Chaplaincy, Altman said, is still searching for funding from both public and private sources. Patients’ lodging and medical costs have yet to be determined.

“We’re very confident that we’re going to pull it all together,” she said.

The facility would replace an outdoor parking lot with an indoor facility that would be located in the building’s eastern portion. Altman said that no parking spaces would be lost.

Some believe the project would be a welcome addition to the community.

“People who are dying need this service,” said Victor Papa, president and director of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, a community development organization that promotes the social and economic development of the Lower East Side. The HealthCare Chaplaincy, he added, is a nonprofit organization “with very altruistic, good motives.”

Palliative care can be highly therapeutic for the elderly, according to Mark Handelman, executive director of Hamilton Madison House, a settlement house at 50 Madison St. that endorses the project. He intends to collaborate with the HealthCare Chaplaincy staff to offer counseling, activities with youths and other services to the resident patients.

“The idea that they can have quality of life for a few years before that, but still be in a supervised situation, is a very innovative approach,” Handelman said of terminally ill patients.

He is equally impressed by the renderings he has seen of the facility. “The whole area is a little bit desolate, and could use some beautification,” he said. “I think it’ll add an aesthetic boost to the community.”

But other community members are contesting the creation of a new business that would be so close to home. They raised questions about the project at a recent Community Board 3 meeting following an updated presentation by HealthCare Chaplaincy staff.

“The residents are very concerned about noise pollution and dust pollution,” said C.B. 3 member Ricky Leung, president of the Cherry St. Tenants Association. He and other residents fault the Chaplaincy staff for being unresponsive to their concerns about the development.

Some fear that, were the HealthCare Chaplaincy to abandon the project midway or to relocate the facility later on, the community would be stuck with a building that could conceivably be transformed into a luxury, high-rise residence. That possibility, Leung explained, could jeopardize his buildings’ affordable housing units.

The 265-275 Cherry St. tenants’ Section 8 vouchers are set to expire in the summer of 2013.

“Due to the fact that the affordable housing stock is being targeted left and right, when somebody’s coming in and being vague and nonresponsive at times, fright rises,” Leung said.

Angelica Rovira, a 275 Cherry St. resident, warned, “If this is achieved by the Chaplaincy, it would set a precedent that all housing planned by the neighborhoods and local officials would be open to indiscriminate changes, money grabbers and encroachment on the original building and surrounding layouts.”

The workers traveling to and from the facility, Rovira said, would become “an added burden” to the “tranquil” neighborhood. “This will be a business in a residential neighborhood, more explicitly inside a residential area,” she said. Rovira also fears the loss of outdoor parking, which she said is an essential amenity for seniors and disabled people.

“I’m against it,” said 86-year-old Charles Tang, who has lived at 265 Cherry St. since the late ’90s. The neighborhood doesn’t need another healthcare facility, he said. He and the other neighborhood seniors receive ample care from the nearby Gouverneur Healthcare Services, at 227 Madison St., Tang said. Gouverneur has a 210-bed nursing residence for patients seeking around-the-clock medical and emotional care.

The Chaplaincy building, he added, would obstruct residents’ views of the East River and attract more cars and people to an already-crowded neighborhood.

“Traffic is a hazard to young kids and a danger to the seniors,” he said.

The facility, Altman countered, would be primarily residential in its design and operations.

“We personally don’t think it’ll be disruptive,” she said. “We wanted to be in a neighborhood where there are a mix of incomes, and where we could serve people who genuinely need this. Unfortunately, some people don’t get the benefits.”

Papa said he and others are in discussions with the Chaplaincy’s staff about appeasing the community by creating jobs for Lower East Siders and focusing on providing care for neighborhood residents.

“With concessions, we endorse this,” he said. “What else can we do? It’s private property — the Chaplaincy has a right to build there.”