Battle Heats Up Over Beth Israel Closure, As Mt. Sinai & State Health Dept. Receive Temp. Restraining Order

A New York State Supreme Court judge made the decision in response to a mammoth petition, filed by community stakeholders, against Mt. Sinai and the New York State Department of Health. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants have violated public health and environmental health laws by moving ahead with–or intending to approve–the long-winded closure of Beth Israel and the New York Eye & Ear Infirmary.

| 16 Feb 2024 | 08:05

The battle over Beth Israel’s fate is getting increasingly heated.

A New York State Supreme Court judge has issued a temporary restraining order against Mt. Sinai Health System, barring the hospital chain from continuing to shutter services at–or fully close–two locations: Beth Israel Hospital on E. 16th St., and New York Eye & Infirmary on E. 14th St.

The order also bars the New York State Department of Health from approving the closure of either facility. The restraining order was first handed down on Feb. 9. Opposition papers are due Mar. 1.

Arthur Z. Schwartz, both a plaintiff and plaintiff’s attorney in a Feb. 7 petition that earned the restraining order, told Straus News that he believes Mt. Sinai is already in contempt of the judge’s instructions. He claimed that nurses hired by Mt. Sinai had wondered why beds were still being closed after Feb. 9, given the restraining order, and were threatened with being fired. “I had crying nurses on the phone,” Schwartz said.

He also claimed that Elizabeth Sellman, the President and C.O.O. of Mt. Sinai Health System, had personally seen to it that he—along with a fellow lawyer—was escorted out of the Beth Israel cafeteria during a Feb. 13 visit. Schwartz claimed that he had Beth Israel employees “lined up to give us information.”

Schwartz said he intends to file a motion of contempt against Mt. Sinai.

“Mount Sinai firmly believes that we have followed the law in this process,” a spokesperson for Mt. Sinai told Straus.

“Ultimately, the health and safety of our patients has been–and will remain–our top priority and the north star guiding all of our decisions,” they added.

The original petition that Schwartz was a part of makes a series of sweeping claims against Mt. Sinai and the State Department of Health, namely that they have been breaking various state laws by facilitating the closure of the two downtown Manhattan establishments.

The petition’s plaintiffs range from the Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel Hospital and the New York Eye & Ear Infirmary, which is co-chaired by Penny Mintz, to various patients that claim they would be personally affected by Mt. Sinai’s closure plans. Other plaintiffs include various nonprofits, anonymous hospital employees, and the tenants associations for both the Elliot-Chelsea Houses and the Fulton Houses.

Similar to the recent claims of contempt that Schwartz offered, the Feb. 7 petition alleges that Mt. Sinai has been violating a cease-and-desist order–against Beth Israel’s closure–that the DOH issued in December.

“In fact, upon information and belief, in late January 2024, after in violation of the DOH Cease and Desist Order, MSBI begin diverting ambulances to NYU and Bellevue without consulting NYU, Bellevue, or the DOH,” the petition claims.

According to the plaintiffs, this has been a disaster in the making: “The three hospitals, in fact, do not have sufficient capacity to provide healthcare services to the roughly 400,000 people MSBI currently serves.”

The petition also takes issue with a Health Equity Assessment that Mt. Sinai ended up submitting to the DOH, which they were required to do by law.

Such an impact assessment is supposed to outline the effects that a proposed closure will have on “members of medically underserved groups.” Specifically, New York’s Public Health Law emphasizes that a project such as a closure should “improve the quality of hospital and health-related services” for these groups.

”The closure of Beth Israel will not do that,” the petition pointedly alleges, echoing the warnings of a recent report issued by the Community Coalition. In fact, the plaintiffs claim that the closure will also violate the Public Health Law in other ways, such as by failing to identify “where Medicaid patients can obtain care if the closing provider provides services to Medicaid patients.”

The petition pointedly claims the health assessment that Mt. Sinai did eventually submit “cursory” and “clearly deficient,” since it reportedly did not address these requirements. The plaintiffs say that DOH signing off on the assessment, therefore, violates the state’s Public Health Law.

The petition similarly alleges that the DOH is not lawfully utilizing its review powers under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), which according to the plaintiffs should lead the agency to conclude that Mt. Sinai’s closure plans pose “a hazard to human health and safety.”

In fact, not only do the plaintiffs want to halt the closure of Beth Israel and the New York Ear & Eye Infirmary, they want to hold Mt. Sinai accountable for shuttering services as far back as 2017. Giving a lengthy history of Mt. Sinai’s waffling on Beth Israel’s closure–which was abandoned in 2020 before being revived in the fall of 2023–the plaintiffs allege that Mt. Sinai originally engaged a “piecemeal” and underhanded series of service closures, evading proper public and regulatory scrutiny in the process. In a preview of the current petition, Mt. Sinai was sued for SEQRA violations.

In March of 2020, a judge let most of Mt. Sinai’s service closures stand, but added that such uses of environmental health law “mandates further analysis.” The court, however, did ask the DOH to review Mt. Sinai’s closure of a cardiac surgery unit. According to the plaintiffs, that “review never occurred despite the court order. DOH has not complied with this court order, nor has MSBI restored the service.”

The plaintiffs demand the revival of the cardiac surgery unit.

In an attempt to undercut Mt. Sinai’s argument that Beth Israel has lost more than a billion dollars over the past decade and therefore must close, the petition claims that Beth Israel is actually relatively financially sound relative to Mt. Sinai’s other properties.

“Beth Israel lost $172 million in 2023. But the MSHS main campus on the Upper east Side lost $195.7 million in 2023, Mt Sinai Roosevelt/St Lukes lost $122.1 million in 2023, and NYEE lost $24.8 million in 2023. So why choose Beth Israel and blame the closure on losses? Because the real estate on the south end of the Gramercy Park-Stuyvesant Park area is very, very valuable. The decision, apparently, has nothing to do with health care,” the plaintiffs allege.

Mt. Sinai’s spokesperson told Straus that they believe otherwise: “While we understand and appreciate the concerns that have been raised, the stark reality facing this hospital is immutable. Hospital closures across the nation are a result of significant challenges in healthcare finance and changes in how care is delivered.” They indicated that Mt. Sinai hoped to shift more towards outpatient and speciality services.