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Lenox Hill Hospital Expansion Battle Resumes After Pandemic Pause

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — The battle over an ambitious expansion plan by Lenox Hill Hospital is showing signs of coming back to life after going dormant for several months while the hospital responded to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a community meeting last month, Lenox Hill officials revealed changes to the multibillion dollar expansion project, which notably scrapped a controversial, 490-foot-tall residential tower on Park Avenue that would have helped fund the expansion.

The hospital will present a revised plan Tuesday, during a meeting convened by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer between local leaders and hospital representatives.

Starting last year, neighbors rose up in fierce opposition to the project by owner Northwell Health, which was also slated to include a 516-foot hospital tower on Lexington Avenue.

Community Board 8 voted overwhelmingly last October to oppose the plan, and a preservation-oriented group called Committee to Protect Our Lenox Hill Neighborhood sprung up to fight the project, citing its “unacceptable” size and the environmental hazards brought on by a decade-long construction project.

This spring, the committee went on an abrupt hiatus, as the group acknowledged the poor optics of fighting a hospital’s expansion while its workers served on the front lines of a global pandemic.

“We want to explicitly thank Northwell Lenox Hill and all of the other New York City hospitals, especially the doctors, nurses and staff for the incredibly brave and selfless work they are doing to protect us all,” a message on the group’s website reads.

Now, the activity has resumed — on Sept. 15, Brewer’s task force between hospital and community leaders held its first meeting in months, where hospital leaders announced the removal of the apartment tower.

An initial rendering of Lenox Hill Hospital's planned expansion at Lexington Avenue and East 76th Street, presented to Community Board 8 in March 2019. (Northwell Health)
An initial rendering of Lenox Hill Hospital’s planned expansion at Lexington Avenue and East 76th Street, presented to Community Board 8 in March 2019. (Northwell Health)

“We will conclude meetings this month and we look forward to seeing Northwell’s proposal enter the public review process,” Brewer spokesperson Aries Dela Cruz said Monday.

Meanwhile, expansion opponents are pursuing a new angle of attack, rolling out statements from health care advocates questioning the project from an equity perspective.

Mark Hannay, director of the advocacy group Metro New York Health Care for All, suggested that Lenox Hill should focus its resources in the outer boroughs, which have been hard-hit by COVID-19, rather than expanding its presence on the hospital-rich Upper East Side.

“If the COVID-19 pandemic crisis has shown anything, it is that access to hospital care across our city is grossly unequal, and beds are much more needed in Lower Manhattan and the outer boroughs,” Hannay said in a statement. “Our public officials need to urge Northwell to rethink their entire plan for Lenox Hill and their larger role across our city.”

Anthony Feliciano, director of the Commission on the Public’s Health System, another community-based health advocacy group, suggested that the expansion was driven by financial concerns, rather than public health.

“This is about profit, not healthcare equity — and