Pols & Health Advocates Rally Against Mount Sinai’s Plans to Close Beth Israel

When Mt. Sinai announced it would close its Beth Israel campus in September, citing $1 billion in losses over the past decade, residents of Manhattan’s Lower East Side were livid. On Dec. 14, a considerable number of the borough’s leading politicos joined a fiery rally on E. 17th St. & 1st Ave., where they urged the NYS Health Dept. to force the hospital to stay open.

| 16 Dec 2023 | 03:13

Mt. Sinai’s plan to close its Beth Israel campus by next July was roundly condemned at a Dec. 14 rally outside the hospital, bitterly cold weather notwithstanding,

Helmed by City Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who represents the area, the event featured a formidable assembly of notable Manhattan politicians: Borough President Mark Levine, City Council members Keith Powers, Erik Bottcher, Christopher Marte, and Mercedes Narcisse, NY State Senators Brian Kavanagh and Kristen Gonzalez, State Assembly members Tony Simone, Harvey Epstein and Deborah Glick, and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Various community activists had a turn at the mic as well.

Mount Sinai said that it has lost $1 billion over the past decade, and further expects to end up another $150 million in the red this year. An earlier plan to shutter Beth Israel and consolidate it with other facilities was postponed over the COVID-19 pandemic, but the hospital has now confirmed that many of its inpatient beds are not being used. Officials from the hospital have also claimed that keeping Beth Israel open would jeopardize the rest of the Mt. Sinai system.

Local residents are not buying it. Some held aloft signs plastered with messages such as “Gov. Hochul: Save Hospital Care in Lower Manhattan” and “Will Grandpa Live? Or Die?” They were more than eager to engage in rally-and-response chants.

“For residents below 14th St., there is less than one hospital bed available for one-thousand people,” Rivera noted in her opening statement. “That statistic is important because you can go to other neighborhoods, more affluent neighborhoods, where there are more beds per person. This is an issue of equity,” she clarified.

“Since 2016, we’ve heard from Mt. Sinai about these ‘transformations.’ About how they are going to pivot, on how they’re going to combine and consolidate. ‘Transformation’ is a word...that sounds like closing services. They’re eliminating services,” she added.

”We need the New York State Department of Health to step forward and lead on this issue,” said Mark Hannay, the director of the Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign (and a longtime East Village resident).

“They need to protect hospital care in Lower Manhattan. They can’t just rubber-stamp this closure plan that Mt. Sinai has given them,” Hannay continued. He called for a public hearing that would platform the voices of community stakeholders affected by the shutdown.

Borough President Mark Levine followed Hannay, who he praised for giving an “amazing speech.”

Noting that the population of Manhattan south of 23rd St. is around 400,000 people, Levine warned that “we are in danger of being left with one small full-service hospital–New York City Presbyterian’s downtown location–for the equivalent of a mid-sized American city. I checked the stats today. Atlanta has a population of 400,000. There are dozens of hospitals inside the Atlanta city limits. That is wholly inadequate.”

”There’s no substitute for an emergency department connected to inpatient beds if you’re having a true medical crisis,” he roared. He said that redirecting patients to Bellevue would strain the capacity of that hospital.

Indeed, Levine was so fired up that he appeared to be in genuine disbelief that Erik Bottcher only handed him a standby bullhorn halfway through his speech.

Many politicians spoke of their personal connections to the hospital. Councilmember Marté called himself a “Beth Israel baby.” Councilmember Powers mentioned that he lived across the street in Stuyvesant Town. State Assemblymember Epstein informed the audience that his daughter was born there.

Public Advocate Williams memorably compared the shutdown to a predatory loan, calling it a “predatory plan for a hospital to get as much money as humanly possible–on the backs of the healthcare that people must have in this city.”

“I find that every time we put profit over a human right over something that people need, we run into problems,” Williams quipped.

Representatives of Beth Israel itself showed up to vent, as well. Dr. Sarah B. Karp, who plays a large role in the family medicine residency program at the hospital, foreshadowed the devastating effect that the closure would have on to doctors-in-training.

The speaker that perhaps stood out most, however, was Dr. Sharon McLennon Weir. A blind woman that leads CIDNY (the Center for Independence of the Disabled), she spoke in stark terms about what losing Beth Israel’s services could mean for disabled people like her.

“We are all one step away from having a disability. This population does not discriminate. You could be black or white. Rich or poor. Gay or straight,” Weir said.

“What makes a difference in an emergency is having a hospital that can help you...Mt. Sinai is [perpetrating] a crushing, crushing situation of taking our opportunities and saving our lives away. We must continue to fight,” she concluded. It was hard not to be convinced.