Gov. Cuomo and DOH: More time, more money
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In a dramatic last-minute deal on Monday, New York State gave Brooklyn’s Interfaith Medical Center an unexpected reprieve.
The state Department of Health (DOH) contacted Interfaith's legal team with the news Monday morning, shortly before Interfaith was scheduled to submit its closure plan to Chief Bankruptcy Judge Carla E. Craig.
Interfaith, serving Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights and nearby areas, was expected to start its closure process on January 7, with all operations coming to an end on January 26.
"Interfaith lawyers received a phone call from the Department of Health this morning before they were supposed to submit the closure plan to the judge," Interfaith spokesperson Melissa Krantz told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday, after the bankruptcy hearing was cancelled.
"The Department of Health told Interfaith's lawyers they were giving Interfaith an extension of time and money to keep Interfaith open," Krantz said. "Our lawyers said, 'Great, terrific! Put it in writing; we need it codified.' We have not gotten the letter from the Department of Health yet," Krantz continued, adding she expected to hear full details later in the day.
While local officials were hoping for funding for three to six months, the amount of money committed by Governor Andrew Cuomo would likely last only a month, one source told the Eagle.
Still, Krantz said hospital employees' mood was "very good."
"We thought today was the end -- again. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and Public Advocate-elect Letitia James both came to the hospital as the administration was serving the staff lunch.
"It was pretty cool," she added.
Elected officials have been working with the Governor’s office to intervene until the state receives word from Health and Human Services regarding the Medicaid waiver application that is still pending, said Stephanie Báez, spokesperson for Congressman Jeffries (NY-8).
The waiver could funnel up to $10 billion to New York State, a portion of its Medicaid savings.
On Friday, 14 local and state elected officials sent a letter to the Governor’s office asking for a postponement, saying that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers would lose their primary access to healthcare if Interfaith folded.
“As a ‘safety-net’ hospital for central Brooklyn, IMC [Interfaith Medical Center] is a lifeline for approximately 300,000 patients, mostly from underserved neighborhoods suffering from disproportionately high rates of poverty and adverse health problems,” the officials wrote.
“In lieu of deteriorating negotiations and a dangerously imminent deadline . . . we respectfully ask you to intervene and direct DOH to issue another postponement of the closure – as has happened twice before – to allow more time to complete the mediation process and explore financial alternatives for the future of IMC.”
With funding for three to six months, “We believe Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center would have time to determine a more financially feasible campus plan for the assumption of IMC,” officials said. This much funding was unlikely to be provided, however, according to one source.
On Monday as the news broke, Rep. Jeffries said in a statement, “The community is thankful that Governor Cuomo and the State Department of Health have recognized the need to continue supporting Interfaith Medical Center at this difficult moment.”
“The hospital remains on life support, but today we have taken a significant step forward by avoiding closure. Bedford-Stuyvesant and the communities of Central Brooklyn deserve a thriving medical institution, and we will not rest until that vision becomes a reality.”
At a press conference Monday morning before the announcement was made, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio said he was “committed to making sure that that [Interfaith] community has access to health care locally.”
“I said it yesterday, I will say it again today: Never assume anything is over cause we're not giving up. We're going to find a way to continue healthcare there.”
De Blasio added, “We are working closely as we speak with the state to make sure that there are efforts in place to continue healthcare at Interfaith while we seek a larger solution there.”
De Blasio drew widespread attention pre-election for his commitment to saving troubled Brooklyn hospitals, including Long Island College Hospital in Cobble Hill. He said on Monday that he had proposed the Brooklyn Health Authority “as a model of City-State cooperation to create common strategy to make sure we're protecting community health. That's what I intend to implement. And I work forward to working with the state. We've not had the formal discussions on how to create a bigger, structural approach but I'm very hopeful about our ability to work well with the state.”
Public Advocate-elect James said in a statement Monday, “I am heartened at the decision to give Interfaith Medical Center, and the communities that so directly rely on it, more time to stay open as we fight for the hospital’s long-term viability. Working to prevent hospital closures has been one of the most important fights I’ve been engaged in and I’m proud to be a part of the team of advocates and leaders who are pressing to preserve healthcare access for all New Yorkers.”
Borough President Marty Markowitz said, “Brooklyn’s elected officials remain resolute on maintaining Interfaith Medical Center’s role as a healthcare facility in our community. I am encouraged by the commitment that Governor Cuomo is making to this institution, but I recognize that Central Brooklyn needs and deserves a long-term health care solution. In the critical weeks ahead, I hope that all stakeholders will do whatever possible to get Interfaith off life support and back to a healthy pulse.”
In November, Chief Bankruptcy Judge Carla E. Craig deferred making a final determination on closing the ailing Central Brooklyn hospital, instead assigning the case to mediation. Judge Craig assigned as mediator Judge Elizabeth Stong, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge for the Eastern District of New York.
The goal was to work out a compromise combining elements of plans submitted by Interfaith supporters, and a closure plan backed by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) and the state Department of Health.
Last week, however, it was reported that negotiations had stalled, and Judge Craig was expected to sign an order in Monday authorizing the closure to begin on January 7, with a final closure on Jan. 26.
Proposals put forward by the IM Foundation and other supporters were aimed at preserving Interfaith’s 287 inpatient hospital beds, 120 of which are for psychiatric patients.
The closure plan backed by DASNY and DOH looked to shift Interfaith’s outpatient clinics and urgent care center to Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, but did not include the hospital’s inpatient beds. Attorneys for DASNY and DOH agencies said that the state envisioned a new model of health care emphasizing clinics over hospitals.
The IM Foundation, Interfaith Advisory Board, hospital management, elected officials and labor representatives were scheduled to meet at the hospital late on Monday to discuss the next steps.
Check back for more on this story.