By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In a crowded courtroom of over 60 spectators and attorneys, oral arguments were heard Friday on the state's move to close Long Island College Hospital. The judge who had temporarily stayed the State University of New York from acting on its decision to kill LICH deferred a decision and continued the stay.
While both sides were “commended” by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes for submitting “excellent memoranda” on the issues, Baynes made clear that the previously issued stay would remain in effect until he renders a “comprehensive decision.”
The groups suing to keep LICH alive — the NYS Nurses Association, Local 1119 SEIU Healthcare Workers East, and Concerned Physicians of LICH — alleged that SUNY's trustees held a “show public hearing” after an executive session at which it had already decided the fate of the Cobble Hill hospital. The petitioners further claim that after the public hearing, the board held a “perfunctory public meeting” where it formally voted to close the hospital. Petitioner attorneys assert that that this public meeting violated the Open Meetings Law because the trustees only allowed about 60 members of the public.
Richard Seltzer argued for the petitioners, declaring that his clients sought to restrain any decision to close LICH and a declaratory judgment that the board was in violation of the Open Meetings Law.
“This is a case about transparency,” Seltzer said. “It is a case about the right to hear and the right to observe."
Seltzer succinctly laid out his case for Baynes, asserting that while there was minimal and non-specific notice of the meeting where the decision was made LICH, and there was no mention, after the meeting, of all of the issues that were discussed. The closing of a hospital that employs “approximately 400 nurses,” Seltzer said “is a public decision” that requires “an inter-relationship process.
“The closing of LICH impacts thousands of citizens of Brooklyn,” Seltzer advised the court. As a “sophisticated board,” Seltzer concluded, SUNY “knew they were violating the law.”
Arguing for the respondents was Steven Banks from the NYS Attorney General’s Office.
Before Banks could begin his argument, Baynes questioned Banks’ use of supporting cases in his brief to the court. In particular, Baynes was concerned that the case Banks cited did not in fact support SUNY’s position.
In continuing his argument, Banks noted “the board recognized that the closing of LICH is important to the public.” For that reason, the board “accepted public comments on the proposal,” he continued. There was “no obligation on the SUNY Board to accept the public’s comments … but the president did what a prudent president would do,” Banks said.
Banks reminded the court and the many spectators in the courtroom that “LICH is in dire financial straits. Within 40 or 45 days its funds will be depleted and if that happens, it will really affect health care in the community.” The president, Banks argued, merely “wants to do an orderly wind down of LICH.” “There is a lot more to this [case] to better affect the availability of health care,” Banks said.
At the conclusion of arguments, both sides agreed that the stay of closure should not and would not prevent SUNY from making communications necessary to conduct everyday business.
Baynes made clear that he “has no predisposition” in this case. However, in a possible indication as to what side his decision may fall, Baynes expressed concern that during the winding down process, LICH wishes to divert its ambulatory services.
“This court is capable of rendering a decision today,” Baynes said. But, in a “lesson of discipline,” Bayne decided to hold off on issuing an immediate ruling.
“My job is to be a servant of justice,” Baynes said. “I will be fair, impartial, and unbiased. The decision will be delivered expeditiously.”