The battle over Brooklyn’s Maimonides Medical Center – a guide for the perplexed
Here’s how Maimonides entered a financial crisis, what this might mean for Borough Park and what activists and elected officials want to do about it.
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In May 2021, Maimonides Medical Center seemed like it was riding high. The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to be over for the 711-bed hospital in south Brooklyn, it was about to acquire the nearby New York Community Hospital and it had just signed a deal giving it some local cred: a naming-rights agreement for the stadium of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the borough’s minor league baseball team, due to last until 2031.
Sixteen months later, Maimonides is in trouble. The medical center, named for a renowned medieval rabbinic sage and located in the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park, may be on the brink of insolvency after the New York Post reported that it lost $145 million last year. Now, even as the hospital says it’s on the way to having sound finances, Borough Park residents and the officials who represent them are asking whether the hospital will survive through the end of this year, let alone until the next decade.
Here’s how Maimonides got to this point, what this might mean for Borough Park and what activists and elected officials want to do about it.
A year of bad news
The loss of $145 million is just the latest piece of bad news to emerge for Maimonides, Brooklyn’s largest hospital, which mostly serves low-income patients. The year has been punctuated by news stories detailing overcrowding, alleged malpractice, employee protests and questionable financial practices. The coverage came as the hospital received poor ratings from the state Department of Health and another government agency.
In February, nurses at Maimonides held a public event to protest what they called “severe understaffing and ineffective nurse retention policies.” A statement announcing the event alleged that Maimonides had “poor working conditions” and was “overflowing with patients.”
Three days later, the Post reported that Maimonides CEO Kenneth Gibbs’ compensation increased 77% in 2020, from $1.8 million to $3.2 million, even as the total number of patients discharged from the hospital dropped from 35,000 to 30,000. The hospital said the jump was “a one-time payment” to Gibbs’ retirement plan because he’d been at the job five years.
In July, five local lawmakers sent a letter to Gibbs calling the hospital’s practices “unacceptable and untenable.” Three of the signatories — Simcha Felder, Simcha Eichenstein and Kalman Yeger — are Orthodox Jews who represent parts of Borough Park and the adjacent neighborhood of Midwood in the New York State Senate, State Assembly and New York City Council, respectively. The other two signatories were State Assemblymembers Marcela Mitaynes and Robert Carroll.
“We have serious concerns about [the] financial well-being of the hospital,” the letter said. “We are aware of nurse shortages at the hospital and fear that it is due to financial mismanagement. If this is not corrected, we believe the hospital will lose patients due to poor care and [exacerbate] the hospital’s financial status.”
Later in July, The City, a local publication, published a long article detailing allegations of malpractice, including a newborn whose severe condition — necessitating emergency surgery — was allegedly misdiagnosed, and a 91-year-old who allegedly endured a lack of care and died a day after undergoing emergency surgery following six days at the hospital.
News of the $145 million loss emerged about six weeks later. The Post also reported that the hospital had only $148 million on hand and had defaulted on some debts. An accompanying financial report conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the article said, found that “these conditions raise substantial doubt regarding the Medical Center’s ability to continue as a going concern within one year after the date these consolidated financial statements are issued.” And the article in The City found that the hospital had a budget shortfall of $33 million in the early months of 2022.
The stream of problems comes alongside poor ratings for Maimonides. The medical center came in at rock bottom among all of the state’s 157 hospitals in terms of patient satisfaction in a report dating to last year by the state Department of Health. Medicare.gov has given the hospital an overall rating of two stars out of five.
A protest grows in Brooklyn
In light of these reports, a protest movement seeks to oust the hospital’s management and improve its conditions. Called “Save Maimonides,” the group was founded earlier this year, is based locally and held a gathering late last month in Borough Park that reportedly drew more than 1,000 people.
The group has been opaque about its finances, telling eJewishPhilanthropy only that it’s “funded by members of the Brooklyn community.” Although Louis Scheiner, a New York philanthropist and nursing home executive, has expressed support for the group, a spokesperson for Save Maimonides said he is not funding it.
Mendy Reiner, the group’s co-chair, said the group has received more than 2,000 complaints regarding Maimonides. Reiner, who founded an organization called Renewal that facilitates kidney donations, is pushing for the state’s Department of Health to step in and encourage Northwell Health, a large healthcare network in the state, to take over operations at Maimonides. Northwell and Maimonides already have a partnership.
“Within the community, we have top-of-the-line [healthcare] organizations,” he told eJP, naming the emergency medical service Hatzalah as an example. “All these organizations help Brooklyn. And here we have a hospital failing us to the point where the Department of Health has them at 157 out of 157 on patient satisfaction. That’s not acceptable. That’s outright negligence. It’s chutzpah at the highest level.”
Maimonides stays optimistic
Maimonides has responded to the complaints by telling eJP that 2021 was “a uniquely challenging year” across the American hospital system. A spokesperson noted, in addition, that it is a safety-net hospital, which means many of its patients either don’t have insurance or are on Medicaid, and therefore its profit margins are slimmer. The hospital said its budget gap is narrowing and has expressed confidence that a state government funding program for hospitals that rely on Medicaid, which it became eligible for late last year, will help get it back to a sure footing.
“Maimonides Health saw significant improvement from 2021 to the first half of 2022, thanks largely to a new state funding program that recognizes that safety-net hospitals like Maimonides have suffered from historically inadequate Medicaid reimbursement rates,” the spokesperson told eJP. “Maimonides is fully confident in its financial viability and expects its operations to continue on a stable trajectory.”
The state Department of Health also told eJP that the new funding program should improve the picture for Maimonides. “New York State is providing significant financial assistance to safety-net hospitals that have a high percentage of Medicaid patients, including Maimonides,” a department spokesperson told eJP.
Maimonides’ spokesperson also praised the hospital’s quality of care, and told eJP that the hospital is “strongly mission-driven.” The spokesperson alleged that Save Maimonides employed dishonest tactics and added, “We welcome engagement from all people of good faith who wish to work together to improve healthcare for our communities – but this campaign, which is trying to drive patients away from the hospital, is not the way to achieve anything constructive.”
What happens next?
Whether Northwell has the ability, capacity or willingness to absorb a hospital the size of Maimonides, and how long that process would take, are unclear. Northwell declined an eJP request for comment. But even if such a merger were to happen, precedent suggests the timeline could be lengthy. Maimonides began partnering with New York Community Hospital in 2018, and the acquisition process took more than six months. The Department of Health told eJP that “The Department is not aware of or involved in efforts by any other hospital system to acquire Maimonides.”
The path forward is unclear — in part because Save Maimonides has broken with Felder. In August, Felder denounced the movement to the Post, saying, “The movement is not kosher. It’s absolutely a smear campaign.”
Felder declined an eJP request for comment. But another supporter of Save Maimonides, David Lichtenstein, addressed Felder’s comments at the Save Maimonides event last month, saying that the hospital’s dismal rankings mean it has earned the group’s criticism.
“Does anybody here feel that they’re so [pitiful] that you deserve the 157th hospital?” said Lichtenstein, CEO of the Lightstone Group, a real estate company. “In the 157th row? That’s where, really, you want to sit? Like, in the bleachers? That’s what I would ask Simcha Felder.”
He added, “Our Jewish legal obligation is to look out for our brothers.”
Two other local officials, U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke and State Sen. Kevin Parker, have both sent letters to the state Department of Health asking it to investigate Maimonides, according to the Brooklyn Paper. Clarke wrote, “Maimonides has essentially become stigmatized by New Yorkers who require medical services and much needed medical attention as a ‘last resort’ medical center due to the unacceptable quality of care provided.”
Yeger and Eichenstein likewise did not respond to eJP requests for comment, though Yeger has been publicly critical of the hospital. Last month, he tweeted a Post article reporting on patient complaints at Maimonides, and in July objected to a Maimonides Instagram post that featured a man dressed up as a Hasidic Jew. The hospital deleted the post and apologized.
“Maimonides the person would be disgusted with Maimonides the hospital,” he wrote on Twitter. “@MaimoHealth should change its name if it can’t live by his values.”