Per Highland Hospital’s request, the July meeting of the NBN6 (Neighbors Building Neighborhoods, Sector 6) focused on the hospital’s expansion plans. Here’s a brief recap.
Hospital COO Cindy Becker outlined the hospital’s seven strategic priorities:
1. Modernize/increase the size of the operating rooms
2. Convert semi-private patient rooms to private rooms, to meet market demand and industry standards
3. Create a dedicated observation unit
4. Create more storage for equipment and so forth
5. Modernize the cafeteria
6. Modernize the PACU (post-anesthetic care unit)
7. Modernize facilities infrastructure
Ms. Becker stated that the hospital will not increase its overall number of licensed beds, but will keep to its current 261 .
She said that the hospital considered several plans to meet its needs. One was to build a new hospital, which was not financially feasible. The hospital also feels that it cannot adequately rehabilitate its existing space or move any more functions off-site than it already has. The conclusion the hospital’s study group came to was to build a new structure on the south parking lot, next to Mount Vernon (see map).
Two options were considered for the construction process. One involved demolishing the current South Building and moving the employees in that building to newly created office space at 27 Bellevue Drive. According to Ms. Becker, this option was rejected, resulting in the hospital’s plan to sell 27 Bellevue.*
The new structure on the south parking lot will be two stories, with 13,000 square feet per floor. The building’s foundation will be constructed so that it could, at some point in the future, go up to seven floors.
During the discussion of aging infrastructure, hospital representatives stated that other buildings on the campus – the east and west wings were specifically mentioned – will likely need to be torn down and replaced in the near future.
The architectural design process will take approximately 9 more months. During that time, the hospital will be working with the city to change/upgrade its zoning designation. (Currently it is under what is called an IPD, an outdated designation. It will change to a PD.) It will also need to obtain a Certification of Need from the New York State Department of Health. Hospital representatives stated that they will continue to meet with neighborhood representatives as the process moves forward.
Time was set aside for neighbors to ask questions and make comments. During that time, Strong Hospital CEO Steve Goldstein took the floor to speak about the hospital’s commitment to providing high-quality health care to the community. Mr. Goldstein left before neighborhood response portion of the meeting. Neighbors expressed concerns about the construction timeline, noise and traffic, where the displaced cars from the discontinued south lot will park, the ability to influence the project to fit in with neighborhood character, rumors about the hospital’s continued interest in 428 Mount Vernon (hospital representatives stated it had none), and the hospital’s history of buying and selling 27 Bellevue (twice to date).
The loudest and longest applause of the meeting came when South Avenue resident Vicki Robertson spoke: “I was here in this neighborhood 20 years ago the last time you bought the house. I don’t want to do this (again in the future). So please can you find a way to communicate to your successors that this is a neighborhood that wants a successful hospital….we want to have everybody succeed. But we don’t want and we won’t stand for being eaten up by the hospital.”
Defend Urban Neighborhoods is pleased that the hospital has decided to keep its current expansion project within its footprint, as we asked them to do in our petition. We will be setting up a general meeting to discuss our next steps. We welcome your comments and suggestions. Thank you for your support.
*The hospital’s ownership of 27 Bellevue Drive was controversial then and has been again since hospital officials told neighborhood residents at a Nov. 14, 2013 meeting about its active effort to buy the property. At that time and again at a March 6 meeting following the Jan. 15 purchase, hospital officials said they didn’t know how they would use the house. Options included leaving it vacant or renting it, they said. Using it for storage was also mentioned at the Nov. 14 meeting.
When asked directly why they bought the house, Mike Zanghi, the hospital’s director of facilities, said on March 6 that it’s “contiguous to our property. That’s why we bought it.” He explained that the hospital wanted to expand its footprint, following a model it had used in the past, of purchasing nearby homes.
Unbeknownst to the neighborhood residents at the time, the hospital had initiated talks with City Planning and Zoning in February to update its outdated zoning code, and, by law, contiguous properties can be included in new zoning plans. Just like that 27 Bellevue Drive’s zoning could change from residential to institutional use—pending city approval.
Also on March 6, 2014, a hospital representative stated that although the hospital’s purchase offer on 428 Mount Vernon had expired, the hospital was still interested in the property. When asked about 428 Mount Vernon at the July 14 meeting, COO Cindy Becker claimed the hospital hadn’t been interested in that property "in years,” and characterized it as ancient history.
Also in that March meeting, and again to the local media in May, hospital representatives stated interest in acquiring more properties in the neighborhood as they became available. These new acquisitions, we were told, would be converted to office space.
The recasting of the history of the purchase of 27 Bellevue, and evasion of the attempts to purchase other neighborhood properties, is troubling.