Squadron: To ensure 'there’s never another situation' like LICH
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
What happened to Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital (LICH) should never happen to another hospital, a group of city officials said at a press conference outside the shuttered complex in Cobble Hill on Tuesday morning.
In response to the community’s unsuccessful efforts to keep LICH open, State Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblymember-elect Jo Anne Simon are sponsoring a bill that would give residents and local officials a say and require a community needs assessment before a hospital is closed. The measure was built around an earlier proposal by city Comptroller Scott Stringer.
“This bill would ensure that there's never another situation like we have experienced at LICH," Sen. Squadron told a crowd gathered on Henry Street. "Today, there is no confidence for communities that medical needs are taken care of when a hospital closure is threatened.”
Squadron said the outcome at LICH was “one of the ugliest and most destructive fights that I have seen in my time in public service. It was a fight where there were no winners.
“If we had had a process in place where the Commissioner of the Department of Health at the state was required to get community input, required to look at the health care needs of the community . . . I believe we would have ended up with a different conclusion here at LICH -- without 18 months in court, without hundreds of millions of dollars being wasted, and most importantly, with a better health care and community development outcome,” he said.
The measure is called the Local Input in Community Healthcare (LICH) Act, in honor of the historic hospital complex, currently being sold by SUNY to Fortis Property Group for residential development.
A walk-in emergency department is being operated by NYU Langone out of the former LICH emergency room. Community organizations and local officials say it does not replace the full care hospital and emergency room lost in the sale.
“Today we need a New Deal on health care in Brooklyn and across the Empire State -- one that focuses on the challenges posed by hospital closures and the need to increase services,” Stringer said.
“Let’s face facts,” he added. “The LICH debacle was simply a football that got fumbled time and time again. The community was not listened to. And at the end of the day we have reduced health care services in Brooklyn at a time when we need to expand services from prenatal to a whole other range of services. We were taken for a ride. And that cannot happen again.”
The bill is the first that would be introduced by Simon, fulfilling a promise made during her election campaign for the 52nd Assembly District.
“What happened here can’t happen again, anywhere in our city or state,” Simon said. “The state Commissioner of Health has got to engage in a process to determine what the community’s needs are. This goes a long way towards making sure the state engages in that process.”
“Currently, the conversation starts after the patient – the hospital -- is DOA,” Borough President Eric Adams said, “Now the process will start while the heart is still beating.”
The measure will have no effect on reviving LICH, he told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“We don’t want what happened at LICH to ever happen in New York City again,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “Current law only requires a community forum to be held after the hospital has been closed. Think about that.”
Julie Semente, representing the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), said she worked in the Intensive Care Unit at LICH for 32 years. “The court proceeding made very clear there was no process for determining the health care impact of hospital closures on the community or on Brooklyn, and there were no rules for community input or transparency,” she said.
“The emergency room at LICH saw over 60,000 patients a year; 50,000 signatures were on petitions to save LICH,” she added. “Those voices were not heard. This bill has to change that.”
A reporter asked Stringer why Mayor de Blasio, who had promised to save LICH during his mayoral campaign, did not attend the press conference.
“We’re here to be proactive today. This is a positive press conference,” Stringer said. “We don’t direct our frustration at any one individual today because we’re actually doing something positive about it.”
Sen. Squadron said the bill would be introduced between now and the end of the year. “Then we’re going to start advocating for it, trying to build support for it.” While Albany is not normally “the land of bipartisanship or collaboration,” he said, the issue “was so significant, and so damaging, that it has gotten statewide focus.”
“This movement was always about all hospitals, not just our hospital,” Jeff Strabone, spokesperson for the Cobble Hill Association, told the Eagle. “We hope that the loss of our hospital will lead to the saving of other hospitals across the state. Hospital closings should only be a medical decision, not a business decision.”
Trudy Wassner, spokesperson for Patients for LICH, said she loved the name of the bill, “And that people will remember every time it’s talked about. I and many member of the community still have not given up hope for our LICH. We will not do that.”
Michael Simon, a resident of Carroll Gardens, said, “I think this bill might be a way to address serious mistakes of the past regarding hospital closures. This is a good thing.”
“I would like to know what the chances of a bill on the Senate and Assembly have of actually getting to the floor and getting voted on,” said Brenda Pepper, a member of Patients for LICH. “It seems like Daniel is optimistic, and they all are.”
“I think it’s a precedent for the community to have this bill. To me, the deal is not over till it’s signed by the judge,” said LICH supporter Josephine Navarro. “It’s not over.”
Under the bill, the state DOH would have to explain within 30 days of an application for closure the anticipated impact of the closure on the surrounding community’s access to care and what measures will be taken to lessen negative impacts, among other issues. DOH will be required to hold a community forum within six weeks of application. The closure could only be approved if it could be shown the needs of the community – including access to emergency medical care – could be met.
Also speaking were U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez; Councilmember Carlos Menchaca (Red Hook); Manuel Leon, acting vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. Representatives of the Boerum Hill Association, Brooklyn Heights Association, Riverside Tenants Association, Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, Wyckoff Gardens Association, Concerned Physicians for LICH, Patients for LICH and Parents for LICH attended the event.