11TH HOUR: LICH backers rally in snow, but shutdown is averted

Long Island College Hospital supporters rallied under umbrellas in the blowing snow outside the state Supreme Court Building Friday morning, as a judge prepared to open a hearing on whether SUNY Downstate could proceed with its plan to kill the Cobble Hill hospital.

Inside the courthouse, the judge, Justice Johnny Lee Baynes, soon decided to postpone his ruling, making it clear that the a previously issued stay of execution would remain in effect until he renders a “comprehensive decision.

Patients, staff and local politicians told stories about how the beleaguered hospital was there when they needed it, and pointed out that it the mad rush to harvest its real estate dollars, a study was never carried out on the impact of closing the area’s only health center.

“My mother had a heart attack,” said Councilmember Letitia James. “LICH saved her to live another year.”

Shockingly, she said, “There has never been a study about the impact of closing the hospital on Downtown Brooklyn.”

James said Downtown Brooklyn does not need more luxury housing, but that LICH needed “new branding and new collectibles.”

 Mary Frost

State Senator Daniel Squadron said, “When my sister-in-law swallowed a bone, LICH was there. It may sound like a small story, but there are millions of small stories. Closing LICH would be absurd. We need more and better health options here, not less.”

Councilmember Brad Lander said, “LICH saves lives. SUNY Downstate never gave it a chance.” Adding that Downstate broke the law in trying to shut the hospital so precipitously, Lander said, “If SUNY Downstate doesn’t want to keep LICH open, we’ll keep LICH open.”

Hardy Hill, a longtime nurse at LICH, said, “LICH can make money. But money should not be the only factor in deciding whether the hospital gets cut. If not for the mismanagement of SUNY Downstate, LICH would not be in crisis right now.

“LICH is open for care, but SUNY is diverting patients,” Hill said. “In the Psychiatry Department, there are 39 beds in operation, but we’re only at a census 20. Doctors are being pushed aside.”

Jose DelaCruz, a member of Local 1199 who has worked at LICH for 43 years, said, “Everybody needs to keep this hospital open. They are treating us like we are dogs.”

 Mary Frost

A temporary restraining order was issued by Hon. Betsy Barros on February 21 to SUNY for failure to follow New York State's open meetings law when it voted to close LICH down.

Justice Barros’ ruling came as a response to a lawsuit filed by New York State Nurses Association, Local 1119 SEIU Healthcare Workers East (which represents all the hospital’s workers other than the doctors and nurses), and the Concerned Physicians of LICH.

The brief filed by the plaintiffs, in part, alleges that on Feb. 7, the trustees held a “show public hearing” after an executive session at which it had already decided the fate of LICH.

After the judge issued his decision, the New York State Nurses Association hailed his decision. “This is a victory for the communities served by LICH,” said Jill Furillo, RN, the group’s executive director. “And a victory for all of the patients who require care in hospitals throughout the Borough. Hundreds of thousands of patients will be negatively impacted by any decision to close LICH. We can't let that happen because we are patient advocates.”

However, David Doyle, director of communications for SUNY, said, “We will respect the process and await [the judge’s] ruling. In the meantime, it's undeniable that LICH's massive financial losses threaten all of Downstate Medical -- which is Brooklyn's only medical school, its fourth largest employer and educator of one third of Brooklyn's doctors. The reality is that LICH is not sustainable and would have already closed had SUNY not stepped in and tried to keep it alive."