Who Is Behind the Campaign Against Maimonides?
It’s Friday. We’ll look at a campaign that’s highly critical of Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn and comes with a mystery: Who’s paying for it? We’ll also see what the House Ethics Committee is seeking to determine now that it has opened an investigation of Representative George Santos.
Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
A group called Save Maimonides has financed an aggressive campaign attacking Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, which has just over 700 beds and a $1.5 billion budget. The hospital, a sprawling institution in Borough Park, was founded by Jewish philanthropists more than a century ago and has long had a special relationship with the Orthodox Jewish community.
Save Maimonides has collected 30,000 signatures on petitions demanding change at the hospital. The group has spent at least $1 million so far, but it’s not clear where the money is coming from. I asked Sharon Otterman, who covers health care for the Metro desk and has written about Maimonides, to explain.
What did you find out about who is spending so much money to disparage a hospital?
It remains a mystery.
The hospital believes the campaign is being led by Eliezer Scheiner, a wealthy nursing home operator based around Monsey, N.Y., who had been collaborating with the hospital to bring changes to its board of directors until about a year ago. Scheiner and the Save Maimonides campaign deny his involvement.
On the other hand, Scheiner, speaking through a spokesman, does say he is supportive of the aims of the group, which it says is simply to improve the struggling hospital by changing its management.
He is one of more than a dozen Orthodox Jewish community leaders and philanthropists who have said publicly that they support the campaign’s efforts, including David Lichtenstein, a billionaire real estate investor who is the chief executive of the Lighthouse Group and who recently wrote an op-ed backing Save Maimonides.
But Save Maimonides won’t say if these people are donating the funds or directing its efforts.
Save Maimonides has organized petitions seeking the replacement of the hospital’s management and independent oversight by the state Department of Health. What else has Save Maimonides done to spread its message?
For months, Save Maimonides has hired protesters and canvassers on Craigslist and stationed them outside the hospital.
It has blanketed local print media in the Orthodox community with ads asking people to share their stories of poor care and long waits. It has hired media consultants like Stu Loeser, who used to be Mayor Bloomberg’s press secretary, and received advice from politically savvy leaders like David Greenfield, a former city councilman.
It has also held several protests and at least one large banquet at which Lichtenstein and the lawyer Alan Dershowitz spoke. Scheiner was praised by some speakers as someone whom they wished would join the board of the hospital, but as far as I know, he did not attend the dinner.
Save Maimonides says Maimonides Medical Center is substandard. Is it?
Maimonides Medical Center is a sprawling hospital and medical system that treats hundreds of thousands of patients a year, making it the largest independent hospital in Brooklyn. By some measures, care is excellent, particularly the hospital’s record of treating people after heart attacks.
But the hospital suffers from understaffing and poor facilities, and this is reflected in its extremely low patient experience rankings, which are the worst in the state.
Patients complain that the hospital isn’t clean enough, that the air conditioning fails, that communication with nurses isn’t good, that basic equipment is sometimes lacking and that the wait to be admitted to a hospital bed from the packed emergency room can stretch many, many hours.
They also complain that it takes “pull” — knowing someone with connections inside the hospital — to get faster, smoother treatment.
The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare gives the hospital two out of five stars, which is not unusual for a safety net hospital that sees mostly poor patients, but certainly not what many patients desire.
The hospital says Eliezer Scheiner mounted a takeover attempt after they approached him for help in 2020. What happened?
Scheiner was invited to meet with Ken Gibbs, the hospital’s chief executive, and Gene Keilin, the president of the board of directors, after he donated money to help set up a convalescent plasma donation program during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But instead of just offering to give more philanthropy, Scheiner, according to the executives, asked how many board members there were, and when he was told there were 30, he suggested bringing on 16 new board members who would donate $2 million each and would constitute a majority on the board. To the hospital, this sounded like a brazen takeover play.
But Scheiner says that he didn’t want to “control” the board, he just wanted to bring in people with the expertise and resources to improve the hospital.
You write that officials at Maimonides say they would like to give up control of the hospital, just not to Scheiner. What do they have in mind, and what are the chances it will happen?
Gibbs and the board have been pursuing a merger with Northwell Health since 2015, and Gibbs, a former investment banker, became chief executive of Maimonides to help bring that about. But while the two systems do have an affiliation, the merger has been held back by the poor financial situation at Maimonides.
Before the pandemic hit, Gibbs hoped that the financial picture would soon brighten to where Northwell would be willing to absorb Maimonides. But the pandemic reversed that progress, and the most recent public documents show that in 2021 alone, it ran a $145 million deficit.
For now, it looks like Maimonides will have to ride it out on its own, probably with significant support from the state. “There are no plans to bring Maimonides in as a full member of Northwell,” Michael Dowling, Northwell’s chief executive, told me, citing Maimonides’s financial losses. “It would jeopardize the integrity and the well-being of Northwell, and we are just not going to do that.”
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House Ethics Committee begins an inquiry into Santos
Representative George Santos, the embattled Republican from Long Island who lied about his background, is now under investigation by the House Ethics Committee.
The committee said it would look into whether Santos had “engaged in unlawful activity” in his congressional campaign last year. The committee also said it would also seek to determine whether Santos had failed to properly disclose information on his House financial disclosures or violated federal conflict of interest laws. In addition, the committee will examine an allegation of sexual misconduct from a prospective congressional aide who briefly worked in his office.
Santos, who represents parts of Nassau County and Queens, said on Twitter that he was “fully cooperating” with the investigation and would not comment further.
I was moving from New York to Minnesota, and my boss had organized a farewell party.
It was mid-December, so the gifts I received were wrapped in holiday paper. The largest one was a snow shovel with a big red bow tied around it. Everyone got a good laugh out of it.
After the party, I carried my gifts down to the subway to head home.
A man on the platform approached me. He looked at the shovel.
“Do you think she’ll like it?” he said.
— Curt Meltzer
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you on Monday — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Melissa Guerrero, Bernard Mokam and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected]