Saturday, February 15, 2014

Hospital’s Plan to Expand Angers Many in Park Slope

Hospital’s Plan to Expand Angers Many in Park Slope, Brooklyn -
by Vivian Yee, Feb. 11, 2014

As Brooklyn residents in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Cobble Hill clamor to keep their flailing community hospitals open, a different kind of opposition has arisen in Park Slope, where the financially robust New York Methodist Hospital is embroiled in a battle over its plan to open an outpatient care center next to its main campus in the heart of the neighborhood.

Methodist’s proposed expansion would dwarf the gracious brownstones that surround it with a glassy facade more reminiscent of an office park than a historic district, residents say, adding that it would saddle the surrounding streets with too much traffic. But the controversy is erupting amid a debate over health care in Brooklyn, as Interfaith Medical Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Long Island College Hospital in Cobble Hill teeter on the verge of shutdowns.

Methodist has the right to build an outpatient center but is seeking a zoning variance from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals to move forward with a design for the center that would both be more palatable to the neighborhood and better satisfy the hospital’s needs.

Despite protests from residents who questioned the need for the new building, the board’s members seemed sympathetic to the hospital’s plan at a hearing on Tuesday, though they asked the hospital to consider shortening the building from its proposed height of 150 feet. “We’re not going to apologize for the fact that we’ve been very, very successful” despite the challenges that have set back other Brooklyn hospitals, Lauren Yedvab, a senior vice president at the hospital, told the board on Tuesday. The number of people seeking inpatient care at Methodist rose by 99 percent over the past 10 years, she said.

The proposed building would be more than 350,000 square feet and would attract more than 100,000 additional outpatient visits a year. Methodist executives say they are keeping pace with an industrywide shift from inpatient to outpatient services, which require fewer resources. In response to community concerns, the hospital has already shaved a bit of height from the proposed building and shifted some of its bulk toward blocks where its height would be less out of place. But a coalition of residents says the changes are not nearly enough.

“It’s going to loom over our neighborhood one way or the other,” said Daniel Kummer, chairman of the community board. Others were less measured. Stuart Klein, the leader of Preserve Park Slope, called the proposed building “a monstrosity.”

Some residents are asking why Methodist must build in that space — requiring the demolition of 16 buildings, including some brownstones — instead of one more accessible to patients from underserved areas.

“If LICH goes down and Interfaith goes down, then people in those neighborhoods will not gain health care by having Methodist bigger,” said Bennett Kleinberg, who lives by the hospital. “Park Slope over the last decade has become an extremely affluent neighborhood, and Methodist has become one of the biggest beneficiaries of that ascension. Now they’re showing dramatic disrespect for the neighborhood that has brought them to this point.”

But Ms. Yedvab emphasized that Methodist already serves patients from lower-income neighborhoods like Flatbush and Crown Heights, an assertion backed by a representative of a Brooklyn-based social services nonprofit who told the board members that many lower-income patients go to Methodist. Hospital executives say the center’s site next to the main campus would create a more efficient, seamless experience for patients and staff members than if it were in a different neighborhood.

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