By sending thousands of letters to Miami Beach residents blasting Mount Sinai Medical Center and praising Baptist Health South Florida, a recently formed nonprofit has joined the drama stemming from a proposed urgent care center in South Beach.
It’s the latest jab in a squabble that began months ago over whether Miami Beach’s planning board should allow Baptist, which is working with well-known Beach developer Russell Galbut, to build a four-story building with an urgent care center, diagnostic office and outpatient surgery center at 709 Alton Rd. The planning board decision is on hold while Baptist prepares a traffic study and operational plan for the board to consider this summer.
The nonprofit group, Healthcare Accessibility Advocates, last week sent a letter and flier lambasting Mount Sinai, which has raised issues about the proposed center’s impact on traffic and its surrounding neighborhood while insisting it is not opposed to Baptist moving to the Beach.
The letter is signed by Victor Behar, president of the nonprofit and a local healthcare entrepreneur who wishes to open a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility on Miami Beach. In it, he calls Mount Sinai’s opposition to the center “anti-competitive” and pointed to Baptist’s better ratings on patient-experience surveys administered by U.S. Medicare and Medicaid Services.
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In another not-so-subtle dig directed toward Mount Sinai, the letter mentions recent discussions on defining a hospital district in Miami Beach that could have made it harder to open non-hospital medical facilities.
“Some healthcare providers in certain select upper-income markets are trying to circumvent the competitive requirement through inappropriate manipulation of local zoning and land-use regulations thereby creating an artificial but de facto monopoly,” reads the note, which was sent to 10,000 voters.
Those discussions didn’t actually go anywhere at the City Commission when Baptist assured commissioners that the urgent care center would not become an emergency room.
Some principals of the Healthcare Accessibility Advocates have ties to Galbut, including his brother, noted heart surgeon Dr. David Galbut, who sits on the nonprofit’s board of directors. Ron Lowy, an attorney who represents Galbut’s real estate company Crescent Heights, is the group’s registered agent. The nonprofit was established in April.
On Wednesday, Russell Galbut told the Miami Herald he played no part in the organization’s formation or the mailing, but he agreed with its message when he got it at his Miami Beach home. He said he had not spoken to his brother or Lowy about it.
“I didn’t even know David was a director,” he said. “But it doesn’t surprise me, because David has been an advocate for the best healthcare in Miami Beach.”
Elaine Bloom, a former state representative and president and CEO of Plaza Health, which operates assisted living facilities and nursing homes in South Florida, also sits on the board. She says she opposes any zoning change that would push medical facilities off the Beach.
“Access to healthcare is a pillar of the strength of a community, and I have joined the board of HAA to advocate for the needs of our community, as I always have and always will,” she said.
In statements emailed Wednesday, both Lowy and Behar maintained that they formed the group without Russell Galbut’s involvement. They said the group’s purpose is to educate people about the importance of competition in Miami Beach’s healthcare market.
Behar said Healthcare Accessibility Advocates did not contact Baptist regarding the letter.
“We purposely did not notify Baptist whatsoever prior to mailing,” he said. “We did, however, send the mailings to all physicians which I assume includes some Baptist-affiliated physicians. I have no relationship either formal or informal with Baptist Hospital, although the unwelcome treatment they have received from Mount Sinai in proposing a Miami Beach facility was one of the things that has given me concern in recent months.”
Baptist officials said in a statement that they didn’t know about the letter, and they insisted that the healthcare giant simply wants to provide the Miami Beach planning board with what it needs to grant approval and pursue the project the “Baptist Health way.”
“Additionally, Baptist Health does not and has not authorized that organization or any third party to reach out to residents in our name with respect to our organization or our plan to establish an outpatient health services center in Miami Beach,” wrote Roymi Membiela, corporate vice president and chief marketing officer for Baptist. “The content of Healthcare Accessibility Associates’ mailing does not reflect Baptist Health’s opinion, or method of securing approval for the proposed project in Miami Beach.”
Steve Sonenreich, Mount Sinai president and CEO, pointed out the hospital’s 65-year history on the Beach in a statement. He did not comment on the specifics of the mailing.
“As Miami Beach’s only hospital, we will continue to serve our community’s needs as we embark upon building a new state-of-the-art surgical tower and emergency department that will help us better serve the residential community and tourism industry,” he wrote. “The contents of the recent mailing do not dignify a response.”