The battle over the future of Maimonides Medical Center was front and center at a town hall Monday evening attended by hundreds of Brooklynites even as the true intentions of the effort to “Save Maimonides” were called into question.
Save Maimonides, which bills itself as a “grassroots effort led by Brooklyn community leaders and activists, and backed by philanthropists,” was formed earlier this summer amid stories of poor patient care, dangerous understaffing, and administrators making multi-million-dollar salaries at Maimonides Medical Center, one of the largest “safety net” hospitals in Brooklyn.
The meeting took place amid reports that the “Save Maimonides” movement was nothing more than a “smear campaign,” as state Senator Simcha Felder told the New York Post, alleging that the organizers seek to “destroy the hospital” rather that improve it, and were targeting Maimonides CEO Ken Gibbs.
Speakers at Monday’s town hall denied such accusations.
“Maimonides is a failing hospital, they’re failing financially, they’re failing morally, they’re failing across the board,” said local activist Baruch Rosinger at the Aug. 22 event. “People are suffering, and I’m talking not minor suffering … the horror stories are endless.”
Citing news stories and the experiences of friends and neighbors, Rosinger and the other speakers at the town hall – including Mendy Reiner, co-chair of Save Maimonides, and infamous Borough Park resident and lawyer Alan Dershowitz — called for more oversight at the hospital.
“We demand a response from the Department of Health,” Reiner said. “Please help us, the hospital is failing, we want oversight, we need you to come in and bring oversight, we need professionals to run the place.”
How it got here
Maimonides’ problems began in February, when nurses with the New York State Nurses Association rallied outside the hospital, protesting dangerous levels of understaffing, which they said was a danger to patients.
Last month, a group of local elected officials wrote a letter to the hospital, expressing their concern on reports of poor patient care and asking leadership to host a public town hall. Shortly thereafter, “Save Maimonides” was born.
Felder had signed onto that letter, but disavowed it and changed his stance prior to the group’s town hall Monday.
Nursing home magnate Eliezer Scheiner is believed to be one of the financial contributors behind Save Maimonides, according to Crain’s New York Business. Scheiner had previously tried to take control of the hospital’s board in exchange for a hefty donation, hospital officials told Crain’s, but was turned down.
Rosinger denied any connection between Scheiner and the campaign on Monday, saying Scheiner has “zero interest” in joining the board.
Donations to detractors
Earlier this month, two more local elected officials — U.S. Rep Yvette Clarke and state Senator Kevin Parker — separately sent letters to the state’s health department, calling for an investigation into reports of poor-quality care and “financial mismanagement” at Maimonides.
Parker was originally set to speak at Monday’s town hall, which occurred the night before the state Senate primary election, but did not appear.
Donation records show that two people associated with Scheiner’s company TL Management LLC — donated about $8,000 to Parker earlier this month, before his letter was sent. The donations counted among more than $160,000 Parker has raised in August, including a $3,600 donation from Alexander Rovt, a billionaire real estate investor who last year made a “significant contribution” to Maimonides’ Heart and Vascular Institute.
Parker’s office did not immediately return a request for comment on Tuesday morning.
“Hospital leadership wants people to believe this is the work of one person, but nobody can escape the fact that over 1,500 of Maimonides neighbors came together last night to send a clear message: Maimonides is failing and desperately needs new management,” Reiner told Brooklyn Paper on Tuesday. “This was just the first of many meetings across Brooklyn to mobilize the community and improve the hospital. Senator Parker’s constituents are suffering at the hands of this failing hospital and we appreciate his leadership on this issue.”
The organization plans to hold more community meetings in the coming months, Reiner said at the town hall. In the meantime, the organization passed out petitions to attendees, encouraging them to sign on to encourage the state’s health department to investigate Maimonides.
Save Maimonides also reportedly hired paid canvassers to spread the message outside the hospital — some of whom claimed to be affiliated with the 1199SEIU, the local healthcare workers union. Mailers in support of the campaign used images of Maimonides nurses without permission, according to a NYSNA email obtained by Brooklyn Paper.
“Many of you may have seen people impersonating 1199 organizers or using literature with NYSNA’s logo in recent weeks,” the email reads. “They are using our decades-long campaign for safe staffing as their talking points for political purposes. This group has nothing to do with NYSNA or 1199, and they’ve never been a part of our union struggles.”
Brian Morse, an executive vice president at 1199SEIU, said the union is “deeply unsettled” by reports that people were spreading misinformation related to Maimonides to patients, staff and visitors.
“We call on whoever is responsible for bankrolling this fake ‘grassroots’ astroturf campaign to stop hiding behind anonymity,” Morse said in a statement. “Our healthcare system should not be exploited by wealthy investors or private equity actors seeking to take advantage of healthcare workers and institutions still recovering from the depths of the pandemic.”
Maimonides representatives were not invited to the town hall, and a hospital spokesperson said delivering “top-quality care” has always been their top priority — and that the hospital has a “robust program” of patient surveys and outreach to collect feedback.
“We encourage any patient who has feedback or concerns to provide it directly to us so that it can be addressed constructively,” the spokesperson said. “But engaging in a choreographed meeting held by an organization that has defined itself by divisiveness, personal attacks, and political tactics is not a productive way to improve patient care.”
Update 8/23/22, 1:03pm: This story has been updated to include comment from Save Maimonides co-chair Mendy Reiner.