In a slight delay to original plans, officials at the State University of New York (SUNY) and Department of Health have been scheduled to appear before a Brooklyn judge on Thursday to answer for their yearlong -- and many say, illegal -- attempts to close Long Island College Hospital (LICH).
The hearing before state Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes had been scheduled for Tuesday, but discussions over the weekend and on Monday bought another couple of days for SUNY and the plaintiffs to hash out a compromise. The hearing has been rescheduled for Thursday morning at 11 a.m. at 360 Adams Street.
Attorney Jim Walden of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, representing advocates for LICH, told the Brooklyn Eagle late on Monday, "I cannot comment on confidential settlement discussions. What I can say is that, for the first time, I have hope we can find a way to keep LICH alive. The Court approved the request to delay the hearing until Thursday to see whether any seeds planted over the weekend would blossom."
New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) Executive Director Jill Furillo said in a statement late Monday, "The community served by LICH deserves a hospital that meets its needs as determined by an inclusive community-needs assessment. We are ready and willing to work with anyone that will commit to a democratic and transparent process that ensures that patients have a real voice in decisions that impact their care. We believe that only such a process will lead to a just outcome for LICH patients."
SUNY and financially-ailing University Medical Center (SUNY Downstate) in East Flatbush, which took over LICH two years ago, stand accused of a substantial number of violations in their rush to close the hospital, which is sitting on valuable Brownstone Brooklyn real estate.
SUNY has been trying to close a deal as quickly as possible, but has become entangled in a web of legal actions brought by a coalition of local community groups, unions and elected officials.
On Friday, the SUNY board heard the pitches of four developers competing in a second round of the disputed RFP (Request for Proposals) process, but put off making a decision.
On April 1, 2013, state Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes issued the first of a half-dozen orders requiring SUNY to maintain services at LICH – originally at the April 1 level and later at the July 19 level -- and temporarily restraining SUNY from taking “any action in furtherance of the closure plan.”
Plaintiffs claim that SUNY violated the orders on an almost daily basis. (SUNY declined to comment for this article).
SUNY allegedly canceled LICH’s residency and fellowship program, ended labor and delivery services, canceled non-ambulatory surgeries, closed LICH’s outpatient psychiatric clinic, and stopped scheduling medical procedures.
In June, despite another court order, SUNY terminated ambulance delivery, jamming ERs across Brooklyn and causing an outcry from residents and officials.
LICH advocates say that SUNY continued to cut services and padlock units. On June 27, SUNY issued a letter directing that no patients be admitted unless approved by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Michael Lucchesi. SUNY administrators halted the scheduling of endoscopies and chemotherapy treatment, and finally, all outpatient procedures.
SUNY allegedly violated another order by attempting to transfer patients from LICH against the considered opinion of the medical staff.
Over the summer, attorneys say, SUNY illegally sent notices of termination to 6,500 patients of LICH’s clinics. The court ordered SUNY to retract this notice.
Other alleged acts of contempt include SUNY’s cuts to physician compensations, “abusive employment practices;” and requiring patients to sign a “false waiver.”
The hearing on these charges has been postponed several times already. Attorney Walden told the Brooklyn Eagle earlier this month, “Our proof is overwhelming.”
Walden said he has assembled evidence that paints “a compelling picture of at least 11 instances of SUNY’s willful violations of the Courts’ orders, including orders issued by the Appellate Division for the Second Department.”
If the hearing takes place as planned, SUNY’s entire board of trustees, including Chairman H. Carl McCall, administrators from SUNY Downstate and Nirav R. Shah, Commissioner of the state Department of Health, will be appearing before Justice Baynes.
If found guilty of the charges, the defendants face “a fine or imprisonment, or both.”
Groups fighting SUNY include six local community groups (Boerum Hill Association, Brooklyn Heights Association, Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, Cobble Hill Association, Riverside Tenants Association, and Wykoff Gardens Association, Inc),, elected officials, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), 1199 SEIU, Concerned Physicians of LICH and Patients for LICH.
Those facing charges include SUNY itself as an institution, and all 14 SUNY trustees: H. Carl McCall, Joseph Belluck, Herrick Dullea, Angelo Fatta, Tina Good, Stephen Hunt, Eunice A. Lewin, Marshall Lichtman, John Murad, Linda Sanford, Richard Socarides, Carl Spielvogel, Cary Staller, and Gerri Warren-Merrick.
The list also includes SUNY Downstate’s Chief Medical Officer Michael Lucchesi, Downstate’s President John F. Williams, the NYS Department of Health (DOH), Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, SUNY Downstate Interim CEO George Caralis, and SUNY’s Senior Vice Chancellor and General Counsel William Howard.
Other legal proceedings in the coalition’s fight to keep LICH open are playing out in the courtroom of state Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Demarest.
After a year of protests, civil disobedience and marches, plaintiffs are asking Justice Baynes to find SUNY et al. “in civil contempt and to assess fines of $250,000 per day until such time as LICH is fully operational and provides the same level of services it provided on April 1, 2013.”
Check back for updates.