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Brooklyn representatives urge reprieve for closing Interfaith Medical Center

A somber Public Advocate Bill de Blasio at a rally for Interfaith Medical Center on Thursday. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Public Advocate

Bed-Stuy to be without a hospital; 1,540 employees facing layoffs

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Interfaith Medical Center, the only major medical center serving Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights neighborhoods, announced on Tuesday it was beginning the process of shutting down.

Interfaith asked a bankruptcy court to approve its closing, and sent layoff warning notices to more than 1,540 employees, according to AP. A hearing on the closing is scheduled for Aug. 15, and final shutdown is expected by mid-fall.

While Interfaith has been struggling financially for years, Nathan Barotz, chairman of Interfaith's board of trustees, has said that a 2010 cut in Medicaid reimbursement rates cost Interfaith 40 percent of its inpatient revenue.

In 2011, a state panel known as the Berger Commission recommended merging three struggling Brooklyn hospitals – Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick, Brooklyn Hospital Center in Fort Greene, and Interfaith. Wyckoff, however, rejected the merger.

Interfaith’s closure is expected to cut deeply into the health care safety net of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, two of nine federally-designated primary care “health professional shortage areas” (HPSAs) in Brooklyn.

Another major Brooklyn hospital on the brink of closing is Long Island College Hospital (LICH), located in Cobble Hill. Battling vehement community opposition and court restraining orders, LICH’s financially troubled operator, SUNY Downstate, is hoping to shut down the hospital early this month.

LICH serves a wide swath of western Brooklyn, and is the only hospital serving Red Hook, another designated health shortage area.

With other Brooklyn hospitals also facing closure, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio on July 29 called for the creation of a Brooklyn Health Authority with the power to prevent hospitals from closing without alternatives in place, and to coordinate health facility construction.

The Authority would control the initial dispersal of any Federal and State funds made available by federal Medicaid waivers received by New York state, de Blasio’s policy director Ben Furnas told the Eagle.

Before filing its closing plan with the state Department of Health, Interfaith had submitted a restructuring plan, which was rejected. At a rally on Thursday, de Blasio called on the DOH to “come back to the table to facilitate a restructuring.” He also called on the state to provide enough funds to study the merger with Brooklyn Hospital Center.

Also on Thursday, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Members Brad Lander, Steve Levin and Al Vann said in a release that they have “joined with Governor Cuomo to call upon the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to approve DOH’s pending Medicaid waiver application.” The application includes dollars specifically dedicated to supporting troubled hospitals including Interfaith and LICH.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, Chair of the Assembly Health Committee, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Thursday, “Safety-net hospitals across the state are in terrible trouble because of cutbacks in reimbursement -- not only of Medicare and Medicaid, but also by insurance companies. He added there has also been an increase in the number of patients who don’t have any health coverage.

“In an environment where society in general is disinvesting in community hospitals, it’s no surprise they’re struggling to survive. We need both sensible health planning and a sensible system for paying hospitals that serves the public interest.”

Gottfried said that in June, Governor Cuomo proposed a plan that was similar to de Blasio’s. “It would have been a mechanism Brooklyn hospitals could have chosen to join, a vehicle for channeling the Medicaid money New York will be getting from the Federal Government. The proposal died in Albany amid Brooklyn legislators concerns about community input not being well accommodated by the Governor’s proposal,” Gottfried said. “There have not been further talks.

“What de Blasio is proposing is a similar mechanism, but much more inclusive of the community in its decision making,” he said. “It would be extraordinarily helpful. I wish we could have achieved that back in June.”

Regarding LICH, Gottfried said it’s very hard to predict what will happen. “It would certainly help if there were stronger commitments from the Cuomo administration. Right now it’s very difficult to hold things together.

“Unfortunately about 20 years ago New York State shut down the regional health system agencies.” One of these covered all of New York City, he said. “If they had been continued, we would not be having a lot of these difficulties now.”

August 1, 2013 - 4:49pm


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