Nueva York, NY
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Sara D. Roosevelt Park, Forsyth St & N Delancey St Jardín conmemorativo de Rivington House desde 16 Octubre 2022
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Rivington House, once destined to be luxury condos, opens as LES behavioral health center
Mount Sinai Health System is opening a new mental health and substance-use treatment facility on the Lower East Side on Thursday at the former site of Rivington House, a one-time nursing home for AIDS patients that was at the center of a de Blasio-era scandal. For some Lower East Side residents who protested previous plans to convert the building at 45 Rivington St. into luxury condos, the development is a happy ending to a yearslong saga.

The new six-floor, $140 million facility, which was designed as a "one-stop shop" for behavioral health care, will allow patients to get evaluated and treated for mental health and substance use needs in one place, said Dr. Sabina Lim, vice president of behavioral health safety and quality at Mount Sinai Health System.

In addition to regular inpatient and outpatient clinic services, the new facility on Rivington Street will also offer alternative models of care for those with more severe symptoms, said Lim. For instance, the building will include a homelike residence with a communal kitchen, dining room and library that Lim said will provide a slower transition out of the hospital for some patients. This crisis residence model will allow up to eight patients at a time to stay at the center for about a month as they ease back into regular life, rather than discharging them after a few days – which critics of the mental health system have said contributes to a ‘revolving door’ effect. Those in the program who are no longer in need of constant monitoring will be able to come and go as they please, Lim said.

The controversy around 45 Rivington
The opening of Mount Sinai’s behavioral health center closes a fraught chapter for 45 Rivington and neighborhood residents. Rivington House opened in 1995 and served as a nursing home for residents with HIV and AIDS for nearly 20 years. The facility was well-integrated into the community, and residents used to frequent nearby gardens at Sarah D. Roosevelt Park with their caregivers, said K. Webster, president of the Sarah D. Roosevelt Park Coalition. In turn, she said, “they let us use their bathroom, which was very important.”

Then VillageCare, the nonprofit that operated it, shut Rivington House down in 2014. The 219-bed facility was half empty by the time it closed, thanks to advances in HIV medicine that have improved the health of people living with the virus, VillageCare said at the time. About two-thirds of people in the U.S. with HIV now have viral loads that are undetectable, meaning they are healthier and less likely to transmit the virus to others, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rivington House was supposed to remain a nursing home, but problems arose after VillageCare sold the property for $28 million to the Allure Group, a for-profit nursing home operator, the following year. The Allure Group paid the de Blasio administration $16 million to lift a deed restriction on the property that prevented it from being used for anything other than nonprofit, residential health care, before selling it to Slate Property Group for $116 million, the New York Times reported in 2016. At the time, Slate reportedly planned to convert the site into condos.

The move sparked inquiries into the conduct of the de Blasio administration by the City Council and the city’s Department of Investigation, as well as a state settlement with the Allure Group for $2 million in 2018. It also precipitated years of protests by Lower East Side residents who said they wanted the building to remain a nursing home.
Then to now

Slate ultimately abandoned its plans for 45 Rivington and flipped the property yet again for $160 million in 2019. Mount Sinai now has a 32-year lease with the current landlord, known as Rivington Street Investors, LLC, according to Mount Sinai spokesperson Elizabeth Dowling. “We were very sad that we couldn’t reopen a nursing home with former residents,” Webster said. But she added that she is glad the site will remain a health care facility. “We have a lot of mental health issues in the park, and we have a lot of addiction issues in the park and, frankly, I’m looking forward to their expertise,” Webster said of Mount Sinai.

There is still a need for more nursing home beds in the neighborhood, according to Susan Stetzer, the district manager for Manhattan Community Board 3, where Rivington House is located. But she said she and other board members are glad that the site is being used for a purpose that will benefit the community. “We were extremely happy when we found out that Mount Sinai would be opening a behavioral health center,” said Stetzer, adding that Mount Sinai has routinely attended community board meetings to provide updates on the facility.

For Stetzer, the conclusion to this saga has been a long time coming. She said she and other board members were among those who pushed back on the original plan to turn Rivington House into condos, and participated in multiple investigations into how the city handled the matter. “What happened never should have happened,” Stetzer said.

Community members put up a memorial for Rivington House in nearby Sarah D. Roosevelt Park.

Photos © K. Webster Gothamist

8 Junio 2023
Caroline Lewis, New York City