By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A Brooklyn Supreme Court judge’s temporary restraining order stopping the State University of New York from closing Long Island College Hospital (LICH) has made Downtown-area officials and civic leaders, not to mention many of the hospital’s staffers, very happy.
However, the order, by Hon. Betsy Barros, has made SUNY Downstate, with which LICH is affiliated, rather unhappy.
The SUNY Board of Trustees unanimously voted earlier this month to close LICH, which lost more than $300 million from 2007 through 2011, according to an audit from the state Comptroller’s Office.
Justice Barros’ order, dated Feb. 22 and forwarded to the Eagle by union representatives, read, in part, “Sufficient cause having been shown therefore, it is ordered that pending the hearing of this motion, the respondents and all other persons, known or unknown, acting in their behalf or in concert with them in any manner or by any means, are hereby enjoined and restrained from: executing and implementing the approval of the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York by acting to close Long Island College Hospital.”
She ordered representatives of the State University of New York and its trustees to appear before her on March 7. SUNY Downstate had filed a step-by-step plan to close the hospital with the state Department of Health on Wednesday.
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 public hearing, the brief continues, the board held a “perfunctory public meeting” at SUNY’s College of Optometry in Manhattan, where it formally voted to close the hospital.
The plaintiffs, in their brief, allege that this public meeting violated the Open Meetings Law because the trustees only allowed about 60 members of the public -- out of several hundred who wanted to attend -- into the small conference room and wouldn’t hold it in a larger venue, such as an auditorium.
The brief is dated Feb. 20, the same day as SUNY Downstate filed its closure plan with the state.
Officials and community leaders, many of whom attended a “Save LICH” forum last week at the Kane Street Synagogue, approved of the judge’s actions.
“We are very supportive of the legal action, and applaud the judge’s decision,” said Roy Sloane, president of the Cobble Hill Association.
Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D-Brooklyn Heights-Cobble Hill), said, “We’re very encouraged by this action. It gives us more time to convince the state that this is not the best solution to take.” While no one disputes LICH’s financial problems, she said, more cost-cutting measures could be taken to save the hospital.
Joan McGroarty, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said, “We very much support a full and impartial investigation of the LICH closing. We think the decision by SUNY was done too quickly and failed to really exhaust all possibilities.”
Jane Furillo, RN, executive director of the New York State Nurses Association, said, “For more than 150 years, LICH has served patients from Brooklyn Heights, Gowanus, Red Hook and beyond.” She applauded the “powerful coalition” of patients, doctors, hospital workers, small business owners and local residents who oppose the closure.
On the other hand, Steven Greenberg, a spokesman for SUNY Downstate, emphasized that the main Downstate campus in East Flatbush itself is in a financially precarious state. “Downstate needs to close LICH to preserve, protect and strengthen Downstate’s other hospitals – which employ 8,000 doctors, nurses and staff, and serve hundreds of thousands of patients from throughout Brooklyn annually – and the medical school.” he said.
Greenberg also said that the original decision to close LICH came from Downstate itself, and that the Board of Trustees basically acted in support of that institution.
“The practical impact of yesterday’s court decision is that the entire process will now be delayed, costing Downstate more money it can ill afford,” Greenberg said.
On several occasions, the Eagle asked Downstate for details on the closure plan. Yesterday, Greenberg finally told the Eagle that the hospital could not do so, “particularly in light of the now ongoing litigation.”
Asked about the closure plan, Eliza Bates, a spokesperson for the New York State Nurses Association, said, “That’s today’s million-dollar question. The press hasn’t seen it, no one has seen it,
Downstate isn’t making it public.”
The state Department of Health, with which the plan was filed, didn’t return calls from the Eagle by press time.