For New Nursing Facility, A Push for Hearings

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By Dan Rivoli

Critics of Jewish Home Lifecare’s planned West 100th Street nursing facility are demanding new public hearings.

When the nonprofit healthcare provider wanted to build the new facility on its current West 106th Street property, public review was part of the approval process from the state Health Department.

Jewish Home Lifecare. Photo by: Andrew Schwartz

But the economy soured and Jewish Home Lifecare decided to swap properties with a developer that owned a piece of West 100th Street in order to successfully build a 22-story nursing facility.

Jewish Home Lifecare, much to the chagrin of its new West 100th Street neighbors, only modified its application for approval—known as a Certificate of Need. The state Health Department approved the modification June 3, 2010.

A modification can be made without additional public comment. But given a change in size and location, the Park West Village community and elected officials believe Jewish Home Lifecare should have been required to file an amendment, opening the project to additional public comment and hearings.

“It’s a whole new development project,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose district covers both parcels of land. “For it to be passed without a community review is not really accountable.”

While Mark-Viverito prefers Jewish Home Lifecare to submit an entirely new application, State Sen. Bill Perkins wants an amendment and a public hearing.

In letters to State Commissioner of Health Richard Daines, Perkins argued that an amendment is required when there’s a “substantial change” in the construction agreement through “a purchase, lease or other arrangement, any land or building” according to state regulations.

“Based on that section of the law, this is more than a modification,” Perkins said in an interview. “This is much more substantial.”

Perkins wants to hold his own hearing to determine whether the nursing facility’s change in address warrants an amendment so that there is an increase in public review.

“The public hearings will vet out these differences and allow them to justify how they can simply call this a modification,” Perkins said.

In a recent response to Perkins, Daines wrote in a letter that the change in Jewish Home Lifecare’s modification fails to meet the criteria for an amendment. Daines even defends the new location as well, writing that West 100th Street represents a “superior environment” over the old plan because construction of a new building would be better for Jewish Home Lifecare’s clients and have lower operating costs.

Locals at Park West Village have clamored to weigh in on the project.

Paul Bunten is the founder of nonprofit community group Westsiders for Public Participation, formed in 2007 during the Columbus Village development near Park West Village. Westsiders for Public Participation believe the planned nursing home is inappropriate for this congested part of the Upper West Side.

Bunten and the group have been organizing opposition to this project and gathering petitions for public hearings.

“No meeting held by Jewish Home Lifecare is a substitute for public hearings held by the New York State agencies responsible for enforcing the Public Health Law,” Bunten wrote in an email.

Others have complained about the size and layout of the new nursing home. Catherine Unsino, a nursing home reform advocate and consultant, has argued against the height and location of the planned 22-story facility.

“The height of the building is not to the well-being of the elders who would live there,” Unsino said. “They would be separated from their neighborhood and they wouldn’t have access to getting outside.”

Ethan Geto, the nonprofit’s spokesperson, said the plan would be less “institutional” than other nursing homes and would create communities on each floor by providing common spaces and kitchens for small clusters of residents.

Geto also defended the modification and the state Health Department’s approval.

“The change of location is so negligible as to be totally irrelevant,” Geto said. “That’s what we thought and that’s what the state Department of Health ruled.”

He added that he understands that the community and elected officials want Jewish Home Lifecare to file an amendment to increase public review and transparency. The healthcare provider, he argued, will engage the community in the coming weeks.

“They’re complaining about communication and involvement and engagement with Jewish Home,” Geto said. “We’re just going to take many, many steps to involve and engage the Park West Village community in a way that will be maximum transparency, maximum collaboration, and we want to get their input on design.”

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