Traffic Study on 14th Street
Starting in 2019, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) will be rebuilding the L subway line's "Canarsie tunnel" under the East River, which suffered severe damage during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The MTA is considering two options for the project: a total shutdown of service that would take at least 18 months, during which subway service will be suspended on the L line, which carries approximately 400,000 riders every day; and a longer, partial shutdown, in which one subway tube under the East River would be closed at a time, with service in Manhattan reduced by about 80%, and repair work lasting for three years.
Communities and riders are anticipating increased street traffic and tie-ups.
I'm joining with other elected officials representing neighborhoods affected by the L train shutdown to urge the MTA and the New York City Department of Transportation to study ways of improving alternative crosstown travel options along 14th Street. We recently sent a letter to MTA President & CEO Thomas Prendergast and NYCDOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg urging their agencies to consider reserving lanes of 14th Street exclusively for MTA buses.
We also emphasized the importance of considering the needs of seniors and persons with disabilities, including Access-A-Ride users, and of exploring the potential traffic impact from river to river on streets running parallel to 14th Street, as well as streets that begin or terminate at 14th Street.
Plan to Downsize Beth Israel Hospital
The Mount Sinai Health System is proposing to cut its inpatient capacity at Beth Israel Hospital at 1st Avenue at 16th Street, relocate the hospital to a smaller facility on East 14th Street, and sell the site on which the hospital is currently located.
I am working with all the local elected officials, community boards and many others in the area south of 34th Street to make sure that the community's health care needs are fully met. We will be working closely with the Mount Sinai system to monitor their plans and make sure they respond to community input. We will also work with state and city agencies that have regulatory and approval responsibilities.
Mount Sinai officials have stated publicly that Beth Israel, which suffered an operating loss of $115 million last year, will remain open at its current location before it moves to the new building (in about four years), and that Beth Israel's primary care, behavioral, and outpatient surgery services would be expanded during that period and after. They also stated that the new building will have 70 or more beds. It will have an emergency department offering the same services it now provides.
Mount Sinai's plan also includes the expansion of outpatient facilities at three sites in the area, with more than 35 operating and procedure rooms, and 16 physician practice locations to be used by over 600 doctors. They have also entered into discussion with labor unions representing doctors, nurses, and other hospital employees and given assurances that job security and benefits for unionized workers would be protected, although some may be reassigned to other facilities in the Mount Sinai Healthcare System.
Community members, health care advocates, and elected officials are rightly deeply concerned. Especially after the 2010 closure of St. Vincent's Hospital in the West Village, it is important to make sure that lower Manhattan neighborhoods are not underserved. (See attached letter to the President and CEO of the Mount Sinai Healthcare System, Dr. Kenneth Davis.)
Chelsea Landmarks Under Attack
In June, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) held hearings on two of Chelsea's oldest buildings that are under attack: the Hopper Gibbons House at 339 West 29th Street in the LaMartine Place Historic District, and 404 West 20th Street, the oldest house in the neighborhood in the Chelsea Historic District. Before each of the LPC hearings, Chelsea residents and advocates held rallies to preserve the historic integrity of both homes.
At Hopper Gibbons House – the only known Underground Railroad site in Manhattan, which was frequented by famous abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison – a nine-year-long battle has been waged to force the building owner to remove an illegal fifth story addition and to cease his excavation of the building's basement and foundations, moves that threaten the historic integrity of this link to New York's past.
At 404 West 20th Street, the new owner intends to demolish virtually all of the house except its façade, and to expand the structure significantly, eliminating its unique side yard and increasing the building's height and bulk, more than doubling the size of the 4,000-square-foot home. The house was originally built in 1830 on property owned by the famous writer Clement Clarke Moore, and is part of the celebrated "Cushman Row" of townhouses in the Chelsea Historic District.
I strongly support the community's effort to preserve both 404 West 20th Street and the Hopper Gibbons House, whose historic integrity I've been fighting to preserve for almost a decade. I joined local residents, members of community and preservationist organizations including Save Chelsea, Community Board 4, and the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, and elected officials Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Corey Johnson at a rally to preserve 404 West 20th Street. The LPC took our arguments into account at its June 14 hearing, when LPC members expressed concern about the overall scale of the owner's plans, and ordered the owner to revise them for a second time, and return for a future hearing.
To learn more, you can tune in to the next episode of "Represent NYC" that I'm hosting on the Manhattan Neighborhood Network at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 10th on Time Warner Cable (Channel 34), RCN (Ch. 82), and FiOS (Ch. 33), and then be rebroadcast on those stations on Wednesday, July 13th at 9:00 p.m.. My guests Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and Fern Luskin of Friends of Hopper Gibbons House Underground Railroad Site.
Farmers Market Returns to Chelsea
The "Down To Earth" Farmers Market has started its 2016 season in Chelsea – a great chance to get fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, as well as a variety of artisan products.
Every Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., vendors will be offering produce and other healthy food on West 23rd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. The Farmers Market will be open until October.
New Laws to Combat Heroin and Opioid Abuse
In June, I joined Governor Andrew Cuomo, a bipartisan contingent of State legislators, and hundreds of New Yorkers for the signing of a package of legislation to combat heroin and opioid abuse.
The new laws, which I helped write as Chair of the Assembly Health Committee, will let patients begin treatment before getting insurance company authorization; make insurance companies comply with objective, State-approved guidelines when evaluating patient needs; fund more beds and treatment slots; and increase the availability of naloxone, which can help reverse the effects of an overdose, and require insurance to cover its cost. The new law also requires doctors and other providers to take periodic updating education or training about pain management, palliative care, and drug abuse. That was a bill Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal sponsored and I co-sponsored for several years.
It was good to hear Gov. Cuomo say about health insurance companies: "They are not your friend."
To find help for a person seeking alcohol or substance abuse treatment, New Yorkers can contact the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services by calling 1-877-8-HOPENY, texting HOPENY (467369), or going online to www.oasas.ny.gov/accesshelp.
Assembly Passes 2 Bills to Improve Access to Medical Marijuana
On May 25, the Assembly passed two bills to improve patient access to medical marijuana under the 2014 "Compassionate Care Act." With patients struggling to find health care providers authorized to prescribe medical marijuana, an effort made more difficult due to changes to the original bill made by the Governor in order to secure his support for the 2014 law. The bills passed by the Assembly last month would bring the law closer to the original bill that was passed by the Assembly in 2014 and supported by patients and their doctors.
The first bill, A. 9510, authorizes nurse practitioners and physician assistants (NPs and PAs) to certify patients for medical marijuana. New York State law now allows NPs and PAs to prescribe the strongest and most dangerous controlled substances, but not medical marijuana. I introduced this bill because patients in need should not be denied access to critical medication just because they are treated by a PA or NP.
The second medical marijuana bill that was passed by the Assembly last month, A. 10123, requires New York State to provide a publicly available list of physicians registered to certify patients for medical marijuana. There are currently only about 600 New York physicians registered to certify patients for medical marijuana, but no public list of them. As a result, patients are forced to cold-call doctors in hopes of finding one, or go through social media or other potentially unreliable sources. This bill would require the contact information of registered practitioners to be on the website of the NYS Department of Health (practitioners who do not wish to be listed could opt out). Introduced by Assembly Member Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D/WFP-Buffalo), it passed the Assembly with unanimous support.
Assembly Health Committee Advances 'Aid in Dying' Bill
On May 23, the New York State Assembly Health Committee for the first time approved aid-in-dying legislation. The bill, A. 10059/S. 7579, which was introduced by Assembly Member Amy Paul (D/WFP-Westchester) and Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and which I co-sponsored, would authorize terminally ill adult patients who have mental capacity to make health care decisions to request medication for self-administration for the purpose of ending his or her own life.
This bill is about patient autonomy and dignity. For well over a century, New York law has recognized that an adult patient who capable of making health care decisions has the right to refuse medical treatment. So for over a century, a patient who wants to cease life-sustaining treatment and receive pain management and palliative care – or no care – has had that right.
Every New Yorker should have the fundamental right to choose or reject life-sustaining treatment, or medication that will enable them to end his or her pain and suffering. We must assure patients that they will have control over their end-of-life decisions, including access to appropriate pain management and palliative care. This critical patient autonomy should extend to the right to choose medically-assisted aid-in-dying.
Assembly Passes New York Health Act Single Payer Bill
Today, the New York State Assembly passed the "New York Health Act" universal health care bill (A. 5062/S. 3525) for a second year in a row. The legislation, introduced by Senator Bill Perkins and me, would provide universal, comprehensive health care to all New Yorkers without premiums, co-pays, deductibles, or limited provider networks. It passed the Assembly by a margin of 86 votes to 53 votes.
Taking insurance companies out of the picture would bring New Yorkers net savings of $45 billion a year, by eliminating insurance industry administrative costs and profit and the billions of dollars in administrative costs incurred by health care providers, employers, and patients to fight with insurance companies. New York Health would also be able to negotiate much lower prices with drug companies. Because health insurance costs incurred by businesses can fluctuate wildly – upward – a single-payer system would also guarantee greater cost predictability.
Universal, complete health coverage through a single-payer system would cover everyone while removing financial barriers to care with a progressive, broad-based public funding system based on ability to pay. As documented in a study by University of Massachusetts-Amherst economist Gerald Friedman, the net savings to New Yorkers every year would be $45 billion, achieved by lowering the costs of private health insurance administration and of health care providers spend fighting with dozens of different insurers – total administrative costs that today make up 20% to 25% of the American health care dollar. New York Health would also achieve savings by negotiating prices for drugs and medical devices, and save businesses the time and money they spend reviewing, selecting, and administering employee health benefits. New Yorkers would save billions they now spend on deductibles, copays, and out-of-network charges.
New Yorkers deserve better than the current health insurance "marketplace." We should be able to go to the doctor when we need to, without worrying whether we can afford it. We should choose our doctors and hospitals without worrying about network restrictions. We deserve health coverage for all of us, paid for based on our ability to pay, not what the market will bear.
People say a single-payer system makes perfect sense, but 'it could never happen.' The Assembly's commitment and the growing public support are changing the conversation.
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