Home Sweet Home?
Democratic District Leader Lew Simon gives a thumbs-up sign after a court decision was released giving Neponsit Health Care Center a second chance of survival. The nursing home was closed by the city just over a year ago.
By John McLoughlin
There will not be any wrecking ball near Neponsit Health Care Center anytime soon, thanks to a ruling by Justice David Goldstein last Friday, October 29. The future of the 85-year old facility, which was closed by the city just over a year ago, is now in the hands of the New York City Council.
During the early hours of September 10, 1998, the City of New York ordered that Neponsit Health Care Center be evacuated, claiming the four buildings on the property were "structurally unsafe." An engineer's report done a few months prior to the evacuation did not substantiate the city's claims that the cost of repair would be $50 million.
Local elected officials and residents cried foul, saying that the city used the "structurally unsafe" argument to close Neponsit as a way to disengage from the municipal health care system.
Others claimed that the city had intentions of selling the property, but were thrown off by a 1955 state law requiring the property to be used as parkland or remain as a hospital.
Council Speaker Vallone, along with Councilman Herbert Berman and Councilman Victor Robles, brought a court action against Mayor Giuliani, the Health and Hospitals Corporation, and several other city agencies, which resulted in Justice Goldstein issuing a temporary restraining order halting the demolition.
After a year in the courts, Goldstein ruled that the city could not demolish Neponsit without the city council's approval. He also ruled that the city council has the right to determine the future of the facility.
"HHC failed to obtain the consent of the city council in advance of its constructive surrender of the facility to the city," Goldstein said. "It further appears that the city has precluded access to any on-site inspection of the facility buildings by a structural engineer retained by the council. The council must be given both a reasonable opportunity to conduct an inspection of the facility and limited discovery as to the structural integrity of the facility."
A spokesperson for Speaker Vallone said "What's clear from the decision is when it comes to public health, the mayor can not unilaterally make a decision that affects people's lives without public input. What is unclear is the future…what happens with the people who used the facility."
There will be an inspection by an engineer and an unsafe building hearing will be scheduled in the city council within the next few months. It is expected that further litigation and the land-use review procedure could take 18 months.
Former employees of Neponsit, who were relocated to other HHC facilities throughout the city after the closing, were excited to hear that the facility could get a second life. "It is great that Neponsit will be looked at with careful and concerned eyes," said one former employee. "The sad part is that the patients were torn from their homes and friends."
Both employees and patients of the Neponsit Adult Day Care Program, which is presently housed on Beach 9 street in Temple Israel of Far Rockaway, credited Democratic District Leader Lew Simon with his "tenacious efforts" on behalf of Neponsit.
"We stayed on top of this matter from beginning to end," Simon said. "This disgraceful act of moving harmless, indigent people like cattle was an outrage. While all of the elected officials discussed putting a New York City park there, we stood steadfast and would not give up the fight."