The full New York City Council voted Thursday afternoon in favor of a resolution to save Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital (LICH) from shuttering.
The non-binding resolution, introduced by City Councilmembers Brad Lander and Stephen Levin, calls on the State University of New York and the State Department of Health to work with stakeholders to find a new owner for the 150-year old Cobble Hill institution.
LICH supporters have been holding marches and signing petitions since the SUNY voted twice to close LICH, an affiliate of financially-troubled SUNY Downstate in East Flatbush.
Residents fear that SUNY Downstate will sell LICH’s valuable real estate to developers and use the funds to prop up the nearly bankrupt Downstate.
LICH serves a booming section of Brooklyn stretching from Red Hook to Williamsburg.
To preserve health care in these neighborhoods, the resolution stipulates that “all resources gained from any sale or transfer of LICH assets are used exclusively for the preservation of these services.” It also authorizes the Speaker to file amicus briefs on behalf of the Council in support of the preservation of these services.
“The loss of Long Island College Hospital would be a tremendous blow to the Downtown Brooklyn community and our entire city,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in a statement. “The Council Resolution sends the message that preserving access to vital health care in Downtown Brooklyn is a top priority for us.”
“I appreciate Speaker Quinn lending her support for our community’s efforts, and I am very glad that that the City Council will be providing an amicus brief in the lawsuit,” said City Council Member Brad Lander. “The community stands ready to work with all stakeholders to preserve critical health services at LICH.”
City Council Member Stephen Levin said that LICH provides medical care for over 100,000 patients each year and employs more than 2,000 people. “Together with Speaker Quinn and Council Member Lander we are calling on SUNY and the state Department of Health to work towards the acquisition of LICH by another health care institution so that the people of Brooklyn can continue to receive health care they depend on.”
City Council Health Committee Chair Maria del Carmen Arroyo pointed out that Red Hook is especially dependent on LICH. “For more than 150 years, LICH has been a critical part of the Brooklyn healthcare system, including the Red Hook area, a neighborhood specifically designated as a ‘Health Professional Shortage Area’ by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”
“We're very encouraged today, seeing that the entire city is now paying attention to the crisis at LICH and is behind LICH with full, unanimous City Council support. LICH is open for care because we are keeping it that way,” Julie Semente, a nurse at LICH for 30 years told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on Thursday. “As we said on day one, the nurses and staff will not abandon our hospital. We are still here for our patients and we will continue to fight for LICH with everything we've got because closing LICH to fill SUNY budget holes is just plain wrong.”
While the resolution does not have force of law, it would be “a tremendous show of support from the City Council and would help put pressure on state elected officials, the Department of Health, and SUNY to find a solution to keep LICH open for care,” Eliza Bates, a spokesperson for the New York State Nurses Association said Tuesday.
“Wait times in Brooklyn ERs are already some of the highest in the city,” said Anne Bové, a nurse at Bellevue Hospital and an official of the New York State Nurses Association. “Instead of closing hospitals in one of our most medically-underserved boroughs, state officials need to expand healthcare access for Brooklyn patients.”
The Council’s health subcommittee unanimously approved the resolution on Wednesday, April 24. On Thursday, supporters and representatives held a press conference on the steps of New York City Hall in support of LICH.
Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes issued a temporary restraining order on April 3, preventing the New York State Department of Health and SUNY from executing their plan to close the hospital. The order will stay in place until a hearing on May 2.
On February 20, 2013, the president of SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Dr. John Williams, submitted a plan to DOH to close LICH. The Chancellor of SUNY is required to submit a sustainability plan for SUNY Downstate facilities on or before June 1, 2013, which must be approved by the DOH Commissioner and the New York State Director of the Division of Budget for implementation by June 15, 2013.
According to the New York Daily News, LICH officials pledged Wednesday to step up their search for a new operator for the facility.