Miami Beach

Beach chamber of commerce denies Baptist membership

Steven Sonenreich, CEO and president of Mount Sinai Medical Center.
Steven Sonenreich, CEO and president of Mount Sinai Medical Center.

The latest high-profile drama in South Florida’s competitive healthcare market is playing out in the halls of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Baptist Health wants to open an urgent care center in Miami Beach, the home of Mount Sinai Medical Center. Baptist is proposing the facility, complete with diagnostic offices and an outpatient surgery center, at 709 Alton Rd., in the heart of South Beach.

The project, headed by prominent Beach developer Russell Galbut, will go before the city planning board later this month. The board had asked the city commission to pay for an impact study analyzing the project, but commissioners chose not to vote on the matter.

Mount Sinai, the largest player in the healthcare business on the Beach, has insisted it doesn’t have a stance on the project. Yet its top leader has raised concerns about whether the urgent care fits into the neighborhood.

On Tuesday, Steven Sonenreich, president and CEO of Mount Sinai, spoke to the Beach chamber’s executive board of governors at a meeting where the board was voting on Baptist’s membership application.

The result? Baptist was not approved.

On Thursday, Chamber President Jerry Libbin confirmed the nay vote by the executive board.

Libbin said that because the meeting is not open to the public, he could not comment on what was discussed by Sonenreich or board members. He did say that sometimes applications are not approved.

“It’s not normal that lots of people are not approved,” he said. “But I’m not going to say it never happens. It’s not unheard of.”

In an interview with the Miami Herald on Thursday, Sonenreich did not comment on the specifics of what he told the chamber. He offered this statement:

“One of my roles as CEO is to regularly communicate the mission, vision and plans of Mount Sinai Medical Center. Consistent with that role, I met with the chamber of commerce this Tuesday.”

Baptist officials were surprised with the vote. Roymi Membiela, corporate vice president and chief marketing officer for Baptist, said Baptist has not run into problems joining other chambers, like the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce or Chamber South, comprised of businesses in South Miami, Kendall and Cutler Bay.

“Whenever we expand to a new location, we automatically look at all the organizations that are relevant within those municipalities,” she said. “We join them for market expansion purposes and to become a fabric of the community.

“We have no idea what would be the reason for denying a business like Baptist Health.”

According to a Feb. 26 email Libbin sent to Baptist Chief Administrative Officer George Foyo, the board invited Baptist to Tuesday’s meeting.

“I want you to know that Steven Sonenreich has requested permission to address the Board to speak against your membership,” Libbin wrote.

Baptist declined the invitation.

“We declined an opportunity because we didn’t want to be put in an adversarial position with one of our colleagues in the healthcare industry,” Membiela said.

Baptist already has a small presence on the Beach, with the South Beach Preventive Cardiology office of Dr. Arthur Agatston on Michigan Avenue. Agatston is medical director of wellness and prevention at Baptist Health South Florida, and the creator of the popular South Beach Diet series. Prior to Baptist purchasing his practice in 2012, Agatston, a cardiologist, had been affiliated with Mount Sinai for many years, running Mount Sinai’s Non-Invasive Cardiac Lab.

The application for Baptist’s proposed center sits with the planning board. It is scheduled to come before the board on March 24. In January, the board asked the City Commission to pay for an additional impact study to look at the effects the center would have on the neighborhood, including traffic. The City Commission did not act on the request.

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