By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brownstone Brooklyn packed the pews of the historic Kane Street Synagogue Thursday night to shout out the message: LICH (Long Island College Hospital) must be saved.
Hundreds of doctors, nurses, lawmakers and residents from Cobble Hill, Downtown Brooklyn and beyond gathered to work on a plan to keep the endangered 150-year old hospital open.
The SUNY Board of Trustees voted unanimously last week to close LICH, but a host of supporters – including the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, the New York State Nurses Association and SEIU/Local 1199, Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District, the Brooklyn Heights Association and elected officials -- urged local citizens to call and write letters to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Health Department to intervene.
They also distributed postcards address to Dr. Nirav Shah, the NYS Department of Health’s commissioner, pleading for him to step in.
“Contrary to what has been rumored, LICH is not closed for business,” said Linda O’Neil, a registered nurse at LICH for the last 30 years. “Cuomo and the Department of Health still have the power to keep LICH open and a decision should not be made without hearing from the people in the community.”
Many speakers wanted to clear up some “myths” that they say have been spreading.
“There has been a gross misrepresentation of the actual number of beds being utilized,” explained Caitlin Boston, an analyst for LICH. “The hospital is licensed for 506 beds, but mismanagement means that only 250 beds have been able to be utilized for longer than three years.”
Though the number of beds LICH can use has been reduced over the last few years, the hospital regularly admits as many patients as possible.
LICH is at 90 percent or more capacity,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron (D-26th District). Almost every bed – in fact, on many nights more than the number of beds that LICH is staffed for – is full right now. Is that a failing hospital? A hospital we don't need?
There was also quite a bit of anger directed at Continuum Health Partners, whom the hospital was affiliated with up until 2011, but is still contracted through 2016 to handle LICH’s billing and collection.
“No one disagrees that LICH is currently losing money,” Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D-52nd District) said. “However, bills are not even being submitted to insurance companies and no plan of correction was ever put into place to generate savings to dig us out of this hole.”
Boston suggested that LICH’s contract with Continuum costs the hospital as much as $14 million a year in uncollected fees. One LICH doctor, Dr. Alice Garner, said that in the past year she personally billed $1.6 million in medical care, but that the hospital only collected $200,000 of that.
“Follow the money,” Garner said. “Who is benefitting?”
Tom Sorra, president of Concerned Physicians for LICH, said that his group has been unhappy with Continuum for years and tried to separate from them as far back as three years ago.
“The goal is to say to SUNY that the solution is to let LICH go elsewhere,” Sorra said. “We can show financial viability of LICH. This hospital is viable. It can work.”
While most of the anger was directed at Continuum, nobody was about to let SUNY Downstate off the hook.
“(SUNY Chairman Carl McCall) said he won’t close SUNY Downstate because it’s an underserved community [East Flatbush], but they have three other hospitals in that area,” Joanne Nicholas of the Cobble Hill Association charged. “We only have LICH.”
“Who is going to serve Red Hook?” said Jerry Armor, 76 Precinct Community Council President. “That’s a question no one has asked.”
Many openly questioned SUNY’s motivations, noting that they paid nothing for the hospital -- though they did assume its debts – and they stand to make as much as $500 million on the sale. Meanwhile, they say, SUNY never came up with a viable business plan to keep the hospital from losing money.
Crain's New York Pulse has reported that SUNY Downstate, in deep financial trouble itself, wants to build a brand-new hospital in East Flatbush to replace it’s crumbling University Hospital. The new hospital’s construction would be funded by the proceeds of selling LICH, says Crain’s.
Meanwhile, on January 25, Gov. Cuomo proposed a budget which included a pilot program that would allow, for the first time, a for-profit hospital in Kings County.
Executive Director of the NYS Nurses Association Jill Furillo, who spoke last, said, “This is a war on hospitals by Wall Street executives. They want to experiment with for-profit hospitals that have already failed in other communities. If this can happen here, it can happen anywhere.”