LOWER EAST SIDE — A Lower East Side legal services group fighting to get records about Rivington House in a bid to uncover whether it was improperly shut down is suing the state Department of Health — after the agency refused to turn over the documents.
MFY Legal Services, which was founded in the Lower East Side, filed a lawsuit in New York Supreme Court demanding the state agency hand over any records on the prospective closures of nursing homes operated by the Allure Group. The group sold Rivington House, a longtime HIV/AIDS care facility, to a real estate developer after the city agreed to lift deed restrictions that had ordered the property owner to continue offering healthcare services to the community.
The Allure Group also operated CABS Nursing Home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and is being sued by the home’s former operators for allegedly misrepresenting its intention to sell that property for a residential conversion as well.
MFY, prompted by local activists Neighbors to Save Rivington House, filed a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request roughly a year ago, hoping to get ahold of state DOH records that would provide insight into what the health department knew of Allure’s plans to ultimately sell the properties and how much scrutiny was applied to submitted closure plans, the lawsuit states.
The state Department of Health requires that nursing home operators submit closure plans 120 days prior to shuttering a facility, including condition and placement plans for relocated patients. Those plans must be approved by the commissioner or the director of the Center for Health Care Quality and Surveillance.
Investigations by the New York City comptroller's office and the Department of Investigation have already revealed city officials agreed to lift two deed restrictions on the Rivington House property despite being explicitly told by the Allure Group that a residential conversion was on the table.
After more than half a year of delays — the DOH continually said it was processing the FOIL request —the agency finally denied the request, saying it would interfere “with law enforcement investigations or judicial proceedings” and that other portions of the information requested would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” according to the suit.
Though MFY appealed the denial, that appeal was shot down within a month, according to the suit.
MFY is now suing the department on the grounds that they say it's obligated to hand over the records.
A spokesman for the Department of Health clarified that it does not deal in real estate.
“One of our most important priorities is ensuring that vulnerable New Yorkers have access to the vital services they need. As with all facilities we license, the Department works to ensure strict oversight and quality of care at these facilities,” said Director of Public Information Ben Rosen.
“The Department of Health plays no role in approving the transfer of real estate and does not comment on pending litigation."
The lawsuit can be read in full below.