ER to stay open, community needs survey planned
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
State Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes on Thursday signed off on an agreement that would keep an emergency department and ambulatory care in operation at Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital (LICH).
If the deal is concluded with the State University of New York, developer Peebles Corp. would maintain a walk-in ER at the site, and resume ambulance service by July 15. Peebles plans a mixed use development of the LICH campus.
The deal offers much less healthcare than community advocates and officials have been fighting for.
“I will be signing the document,” Justice Baynes told the courtroom. “No judge is going to block what three, four attorneys want to do.” He cautioned, however, “It’s a tough time for everybody, and I don’t think it’s over yet.”
SUNY has agreed to keep the ER open until May 27 while North Shore-LIJ, one of Peeble’s health care partners, takes over its staffing and eventually, its operation. SUNY is closing the remainder of the historic Cobble Hill hospital and laying off the staff at midnight on Thursday.
In recognition that no survey of the healthcare needs of LICH’s catchment area has ever been carried out, the deal also requires that Peebles and its partners hire an independent health care consultant to conduct a “data-driven, transparent” community medical needs assessment of the LICH catchment area, “without any political considerations.”
Based on the results of this survey, Peebles’ partners Maimonides Medical Center, North Shore-LIJ, ProHEALTH and the Institute for Family Health, would be expected to “work in good faith to provide the services deemed advisable.”
LICH's catchment area includes many of the city’s fastest-growing neighborhoods -- from Red Hook, through Downtown Brooklyn, to Williamsburg -- and some of its most underserved.
Litigation loose ends
Brooklyn community groups, doctors and the NYC Public Advocate agreed to withdraw litigation challenging some apparently non-compliant RFP proposal rankings while the final details are being hashed out. Another litigant, Dr. Jon Berall, had filed a similar motion. Justice Baynes dismissed his motion on Thursday.
Lawyers, development teams and LICH advocates have been packing the almost-daily hearings at the Downtown Brooklyn courthouse, and some litigation is still ongoing.
The first-place bidder in the disputed RFP process, Brooklyn Health Partners, was eliminated from consideration on May 13. Moses Reser, affiliated with BHP investor Harry Miller, told the Brooklyn Eagle that BHP’s attorneys had filed a motion on Tuesday to reconsider the decision, and that an appeal was pending. BHP will be in court Friday.
Attorney Jim Walden asked attorneys for all the parties involved to keep in mind that doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, medical and CAT scan technicians and other healthcare workers were losing their jobs. “It’s a sad day for the community. They could have gotten so much more money elsewhere, yet they stayed. I’m asking SUNY to consider keeping them as long as possible.”
By midnight on Thursday, SUNY had fired all of the remaining LICH ER doctors and replaced them with Downstate doctors.
Attorney Richard Seltzer (Cohen, Weiss & Simon), representing the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), praised the dedication and skill of the staff who kept LICH alive throughout a very difficult year. "The employees of LICH kept the doors open while we were involved in litigation." He asked those present to "step back to where we were when the case started last February," when the Concerned Physicians, 1199 and NYSNA fought LICH's closing scheduled for May or June "that was likely a real estate transaction with no health care."
Attorney Frank Carone (Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman) representing SUNY, called Justice Baynes "the consummate team player," and praised SUNY chair H. Carl McCall and SUNY for flexibility in allowing the transaction to occur -- though he was careful to allow that the deal was not certain. If that were the case, "SUNY will notify seven days in advance," he said.
Justice Baynes, who has been praised by attorneys for his guidance throughout this convoluted case, shared his thoughts on the outcome. “Whatever goes on here, the future will bear out what side was right and what side was wrong in terms of the status of health care in Brooklyn. Downtown Brooklyn has become Wall Street South. You must have adequate health care. If a catastrophe happens right now, where can you go?”
He continued, “As Thurgood Marshall said, ‘I did the best I could with what I had.’”
On the positive side, Baynes said, “The case has come a long way from February 2013, when there was no talk of any kind of health care. As a judge, I try to stay hands off. As I’ve said before, the greatest power is the one you don’t have to use. I’m still hoping I will not need to use that power.”
Comments from SUNY, officials
SUNY spokesperson David Doyle said in a statement late Thursday, “As a way to ensure continuity of care for the Cobble Hill community during this transition to another provider, SUNY is voluntarily maintaining the current level of medical services at the Emergency Department, on a temporary basis, as a final deal is reached.
He added, “Importantly, SUNY will be held harmless for all costs associated with running the Emergency Department during this transition. This is critically important because our students and campuses have already been burdened by heavy financial losses at LICH. SUNY will continue to work diligently to finalize the transaction in an expeditious manner.”
Peebles spokesperson Robert Ford said, “We’re very pleased that we’ve reached an agreement in principle with representatives from the community groups and that they’ve withdrawn litigation. There will be continuity of care with NSLIJ operating at the site under the SUNY license. The handoff will be seamless then as NSLIJ begins operating under their license.”
Officials including Public Advocate Letitia James, Assemblyperson Joan Millman, state Senators Velmanette Montgomery and Daniel Squadron, and City Councilmembers Stephen Levin, Carlos Menchaca and Brad Lander said in a statement that thanks to the “unrelenting commitment from advocates and leaders in Brooklyn and beyond, we have ensured the continuity of medical services” at LICH.
“Today, Peebles Corp. along with its healthcare partners— who have a real track record of providing robust healthcare services— have agreed to provide emergency services. We appreciate SUNY’s willingness to operate the Emergency Department until that time.
“While we will continue to press for maximum medical services, we know now that LICH will not be shuttered and that Brooklyn patients will be able to access medical services at LICH.”
Attorney Walden said in a statement, “Today’s settlement starts a new chapter in our effort to preserve medical services at Long Island College Hospital, an institution that has served our community for over 150 years.”
“After a long struggle, and battling many powerful forces rushing to close our hospital, our communities stood together with our elected officials and pursued our rights,” he said. “Today’s settlement protects the vital community need for continuity of emergency care, requires the restoration of ambulance service, and, finally, commissions a study to assess the Community’s vital needs for acute care and in-patient admissions. If that study shows, as we suspect it will, that a hospital in necessary in our growing community, we look forward to working with the Peebles Corporation and our elected officials to make it feasible. If the study shows otherwise, we will abide its conclusions.”
Walden thanked the doctors, nurses, and Mayor Bill DeBlasio “for leading us into battle as Public Advocate, and Letitia James for continuing the fight.”
Community sheds tears
After the hearing, Susan Raboy, spokesperson for the advocacy group Patients for LICH told the Brooklyn Eagle, "I'm stunned, but at the same time hopeful that while there is this ER, we are going to have this assessment, open and transparent and handled honestly." She repeated, "If done honestly . . . because surveys can be skewed." She added, "My other major concern is that so many brilliant, talented doctors and nurses lost their jobs today, including the team that saved me."
Long-time LICH staffers said they were heartbroken. Julie Semente, Joan Rowley, Loreto Gasman and Sonia Taylor, members of the New York State Nurses Association’s LICH Executive Committee, said in a statement, “This is not the outcome that LICH nurses fought for. We hope this agreement means that LICH will not remain permanently and completely closed after tonight.”
Several observers commented that it was "bizarre" that the hospital would be shut before the health care needs assessment was carried out, considering the enormous investment necessary to restart a hospital, compared to maintaining a going operation.
Nurse Semente told the Eagle on Wednesday that the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) had been saying "from the very beginning" that a community needs assessment was essential, predicting that "the entire hospital may have to shut down before the community gets that."
Deborah Bingham, a LICH nurse and community member, said, “I’m angry. We want a full-service hospital. An ER is not going cut it for the community. The assessment is going to take too much time, and we don’t have time.”
Roy Sloane, President of the Cobble Hill Association, told the Eagle, “It’s a very tragic day. We mourn the loss of an institution that has served our community for 156 years, benevolently and with distinction.” He added, “Despite the changing paradigms in healthcare, I think the basic needs of the population need to be addressed.”
The Brooklyn Heights Association said in a statement on Friday, “The Brooklyn Heights Association is very disappointed that the amended RFP for Long Island College Hospital did not result in the selection of a hospital operator. We welcome, however, Peebles' commitment today to assess and address necessary healthcare needs of the LICH community.
BHA said they expected Peebles to conduct a good faith community medical needs assessment and “expeditiously provide medical services to address those needs.”
“We are grateful to our partners who have selflessly contributed thousands of hours to this effort over the past year and a half,” BHA said. “And we deeply appreciate the extraordinary efforts of Jim Walden and his talented team at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.”
Dr. Toomas Sorra, President of Concerned Physicians of LICH, took the long view. "This is not about Peebles; this is not about SUNY. The death of LICH goes back to 1998 when Continuum [Health Partners] took over. Stan Brezenoff and John Wren -- they were the architects of the ultimate demise of Long Island College Hospital."
Several observers said that whatever the outcome, it was better than SUNY’s plan for LICH when they first tried to close the hospital over a year ago. “Look at where we came from – they were going to put a gym in there,” one supporter said.
Nancy Udell, a member of the advocacy group Patients for LICH, said, “I support the process and I’m glad there is continuity of service. I hope the study will show that Brooklyn truly needs an acute care hospital in our area. Still, I’m very disappointed.” She added, “I don’t think this is the end. The real estate deal – who knows what will happen with that?”
“For the sake of the community, I hope that a community needs assessment takes place as soon as possible so that the full-service-hospital this catchment area so obviously needs can be restored as soon as possible,” said Jeanie Segall, a member of 1199 SEIU Healthcare Workers.
Jeff Strabone, spokesperson for the Cobble Hill Association, said he hoped that conducting an assessment would set a precedent in future closures, so that future medical decisions "are based on need."
Check back for updates.
© 2014 Brooklyn Eagle