By: Ilana Siyance
Mount Sinai Beth Israel was working on a hush-hush plan to merge its New York Eye and Ear Infirmary into its Beth Israel division, and free up its valuable East Village real estate for a hefty sum sale. As reported by the NY Post, those plans hit a bump last week, when a New York State Department of Health committee declined to approve the hospital system’s merger proposal.
NYEEI is a division of Mount Sinai. It owns two buildings and some vacant land on prime location on Second Avenue between East 13th and East 14th streets. Sources for the Post say that the land could be worth some $70 million to a developer would construct an apartment building at the site. Some of the panel members on the DOH committee were less than keen about the hospital making decisions in order to cash in on its pricey real estate. Dr. Howard Berliner, a DOH panel member, was among those who voted against the merger. “If I was a real estate developer I would be drooling at the prospect of getting the [NYEEI] site in the East Village, probably one of the hottest markets in New York City,” Berliner said.
The DOH panel, namely the New York Public Health and Health Planning Council, voted 11-6 to approve the merger, but this was three votes short of the required number needed under the panel’s regulations. Those who voted against the merger cited that among other issues, Mount Sinai had made no effort to communicate their plans or get community feedback, and had even eluded questions from the DOH. Despite the committee’s vote, the merger plans are not dead yet. DOH Acting Commissioner James V. McDonald, who took on the position on Jan. 1, must sign off on the committee’s decision. A Post source said it would be “rare” for a commissioner to overrule the planning council.
Without a merger, the infirmary would not be able to vacate the two buildings, or free up the land for a potential sale. Per the Post, since June, Mount Sinai has already started slowly relocating resources and staff from the Second Avenue sites to other buildings that are part of the Mount Sinai Beth Israel network. Departments that have already started relocating include surgery, clinical and ambulatory units. A sale of the property could still be possible, ever without a merger, but it would require the approval of the NYEEI board (which would have been dissolved in the proposed merger).
Elected local officials recently penned a letter to Mount Sinai CEO, Kenneth Davis, asking them to put the proposal on “pause”. The politicians and many NYEEI staff fear that the merger would dismantle the Infirmary by scattering its services to various multiple locations. “We are still awaiting answers to questions we’ve asked of Mount Sinai throughout this process,” said the letter, which was signed by Assembly members Harvey Epstein and Deborah Glick, state Sens. Brian Kavanagh and Brad Hoylman-Sigal, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and City Council members Carlina Rivera and Christopher Marte.
Preservationists also do not want the 200-year-old building on 218 Second Ave. to be demolished. That infirmary building dates back to 1902, and was featured in the movie “The Godfather”, in the scene when Al Pacino saved Marlon Brando from an assassination attempt.
On Friday, Mount Sinai president Dr. Jeremy Boal and NYEEI president Dr. James C. Tsai issued an update, claiming that the proposal was “strictly technical in nature” and that it would now move on to the state “for a final decision without a formal recommendation.”