Seniors and staff fight to keep open E. B’way residence


By Albert Amateau

Rose Lauria, whose father, Thomas, is a resident of the Bialystoker Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, was among the crowd in front of the center on East Broadway on Tuesday protesting the plan to close the venerable Lower East Side institution.

Residents, their families and friends joined staff members in the demonstration against the proposal to sell the 80-year-old building and relocate the 86 frail and elderly residents to other facilities.

“There are only three or four nursing homes between here and 79th St. and they’re all full,” said Lauria, a resident of the Village View co-op on E. Fourth St., who is able to make the short trip to visit her father — who’ll be 99 years old next month — several times a week.

“My mother feels she’s being thrown out in the street,” said Myrta Chica-Acevedo. “I grew up in the neighborhood and I come here every day to visit her. It breaks my heart to hear the residents cry because they don’t know where they’re going to live,” Chica-Acevedo said.

Millie Mundschein, over 80, frail and wheelchair bound, told about her concerns for the future even though she has some alternatives — she claims Senator Chuck Schumer as her first cousin. But moving away from the Bialystoker and the neighborhood fills her with fear.

“This is my home,” Mundschein told the crowd.

The eight-story Bialystoker Center, at 228 East Broadway near Seward Park, was built in 1930 as a nonprofit nursing home and named for the city in Poland where many of its founders came from.

Licensed by New York State for 95 residents, the center currently has 86, most of them with neighborhood ties, according to William Quintano, the center’s recreation director for the past 12 years.

“I think the youngest is 55, and some of them have been here longer than I have,” Quintano said. Lauria’s father, Thomas, has been a Bialystoker resident for more than 12 years.

The center’s board of directors announced several weeks ago that the building’s maintenance, repairs and operating expenses have made it necessary to close the center and put the building up for sale.

Grubb Ellis has been marketing the property as “highly desirable” and able “to accommodate a residential development of up to 71,554 square feet, or 77,259 square feet with a community facility component.”

But families of the home’s residents are outraged that Ira Meister, chairman of the Bialystoker board, approved the sale last year of 232 East Broadway — the center’s adjacent three-story medical office building — to Matthew Adams Properties for $1.5 million. Meister is the founder of Matthew Adams Properties and his wife, Shelly Goldberg, is listed on city documents as the principal in the sale.

Norma Ramirez distributed fliers saying that local politicians haven’t been active enough in fighting to save the nursing home.

The 20-year-old building at 232 East Broadway has already been leased to the Educational Alliance, which is planning a gut-renovation of its main building at 197 East Broadway in September. The Alliance plans to relocate to 232 East Broadway while No. 197 is under construction.

Despite the neighborhood outrage about the impending sale of the Bialystoker Center and the sale last year of 232 East Broadway, a former chairman of the center’s board of directors told this newspaper in a telephone interview that the board is following state regulations governing nonprofit charities.

“Nobody is being thrown out into the street,” said Barry Winston, former chairman and current member of the board.

The transfer of residents to other institutions is being done in an orderly fashion and according to state regulations, he said. The building at 232 East Broadway was sold to raise funds for operating the center, to pay bills and to make emergency repairs, Winston added, noting that his grandfather, grandmother and mother had been Bialystoker residents, as had Meister’s father.

“No one on the board receives compensation and the center has been operating at a tremendous loss of years. We’ve made every effort, but we can’t keep it open,” said Winston, who estimated the annual loss at $1 million.

The center’s small endowment is not enough to insure continued operation, he added.

The high staffing requirement for a nursing home was another burden that made the closing inevitable, Winston said. Currently there are 132 staff members.

“We have never missed a payroll and we’ve been concerned to provide the best care possible but that’s not sustainable anymore,” he said.

Responding to the demand that the building be sold to an entity that could run it, Winston said that the board has made inquiries.

“There is no one out there,” he concluded.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver,

state Senator Daniel Squadron and Councilmember Margaret Chin sent a joint letter on Tuesday to the state Department of Health commissioner, Nirav H. Shah, concerning the Bialystoker closing.

“We understand that…the Department of Health will seek to place residents in facilities that offer similar care, but we along with members of the community feel it is important that such services be offered here on the Lower East Side,” their letter said in part. “For many families as well as patients, moving to other parts of the city or state would simply present too much of a hardship. Therefore we are asking that you make every possible effort to see that if Bialystoker does close it is replaced by another long-term facility in that location,” the politicians added.

The letter did not impress many protestors at the Tuesday rally.

“Is this the best that our politicians can offer?” asked Norma Ramirez, a neighbor.

Mona Prokopin, a resident of the Seward Park co-op, called on the mayor to back a scheme to keep the center open.

“Mayor Bloomberg, I’m not asking you. I’m begging you,” she pleaded.

David Kanowitz, who works at a neighborhood social service agency, insisted that the Bialystoker board of directors was guilty of failing to protect the residents.

“We don’t need more condos,” he said, adding, “When was the last time that a member of the board of directors came down and looked a resident in the eye and said what was happening?”