BJC Pushing for New Sinai Complex, Anti-BDS Bill

Sarah Mersky, director of government relations at the Baltimore Jewish Council.
Sarah Mersky, director of government relations at the Baltimore Jewish Council.

The Baltimore Jewish Council will lobby for a new medical center for the uninsured and underinsured at Sinai Hospital and push for a bill that prevents businesses supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel from doing business with the state of Maryland in next year’s legislative session.

The items were among the BJC’s legislative priorities in advance of the General Assembly’s new session that were outlined at an Oct. 8 meeting.

The BJC’s capital request is for a community primary- and specialty-care complex at Sinai Hospital, which is an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. The organization is asking for $3 million for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 for the two-building complex, which will serve the uninsured or underinsured, said Sarah Mersky, the BJC’s director of government relations. She said it’s part of an overall focus on keeping people out of emergency rooms, part of which includes having clinics for those without primary-care physicians to go to rather than the ER.

BJC executive director Art Abramson said the council is working with local delegates on an anti-BDS bill, which is expected to be this coming year’s major policy issue for the council.

“We think that we will be able to provide some sort of legislation that will make it very difficult for those who want to deal in business [and who] promote boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel to operate in our state,” Abramson said. He added that he thinks legislation can move forward now that the BJC and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington are united in their positions.
[pullquote]The Baltimore Jewish Council expects its main policy issue in the 2016 Maryland General Assembly to be anti-BDS legislation.[/pullquote]
Abramson said the council is also awaiting an opinion from the attorney general on how Maryland’s Iran sanctions legislation could be affected by the Iran nuclear deal. New legislation may be necessary to maintain Maryland’s standing as the state with the strongest sanctions against Iran, he said.

The BJC will also be working on two bond bills, one of which would be for upgrades to the Gordon Center. Mersky said the center needs an upgraded system to help those with hearing loss enjoy shows as well as environmentally friendly lighting.

The other bond bill is for a generator at the Pearlstone Center, which Mersky said sometimes loses power. In order to put the bond bill forward for the generator, Pearlstone will need to become a FEMA site, which would make sense, Mersky said, since it has hundreds of beds and is in a rural area.

Mersky said bond bills are often matched two-to-one or three-to-one through The Associated, private funding and, in the case of the Gordon Center, grants.

On the operational budget side, the BJC is asking for the same items as last year, with a larger funding request for the Diabetes Medical Home Extender Program. The program, which includes having people call diabetes patients to make sure they take their medication, is being expanded to Carroll Hospital and Northwest Hospital, which are both now a part of LifeBridge Health along with Sinai. Previously, the program was allotted $250,000 for just Sinai Hospital. This year, the BJC is asking for $800,000. Mersky said combined, the state and Sinai have saved $1.4 million since 2014 with this program.

Other operational items include $75,000 for the elder abuse program, $150,000 for the domestic violence prevention program, $225,000 for the supportive community network, $275,000 for the Maryland/Israel Development Center and $350,000 for Holocaust survivors, which was funded for the first time last year.

“Even though there are less Holocaust survivors … there are actually more in need in our program,” Mersky said. “Every year, we’re seeing a very large increase, and it’s only getting larger because even though they’re older, they have a lot more need.”

The funds would give Holocaust survivors seven hours of care, seven days a week.

The BJC is also working on bills to help those with autism and residents of Baltimore’s Penn-North neighborhood.

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