By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Saying that city and state government are “fiddling” while Brooklyn healthcare is burning, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio on Monday released a four-pronged plan that calls for the creation of a Brooklyn Health Authority, with sweeping but temporary powers to transform hospitals and provide healthcare to the entire borough.
With two major hospitals – Long Island College Hospital (LICH) and Interfaith Medical Center -- on the brink and three others threatened, the Brooklyn Health Authority would create a partnership between the city and state to coordinate the spending of health dollars, help Brooklyn’s small hospitals negotiate as a collective, and push for higher care standards.
Interfaith, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, has already submitted a closing plan to the state and is struggling to be allowed to reorganize. SUNY Downstate, which manages LICH, has been engaged in a months-long battle to shut down the 155-year-old Cobble Hill hospital in the face of fierce community opposition and temporary restraining orders.
In a press conference on Monday outside of LICH, which has been turned into a fortress by heavily armed SUNY Downstate police and private security guards, de Blasio said that Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Health Department haven’t raised a hand to help struggling Brooklyn hospitals.
“While hospital buildings are getting sold off to real estate interests for luxury condos, one in four Brooklynites lacks access to primary health care – that’s 600,000 people,” he said. “If LICH and Interfaith go down, a quarter of a million people will have to go much farther for their emergency care, when every minute makes a difference.”
The Brooklyn Health Authority, with members appointed by the Mayor and the Governor, would prevent hospitals from closing without alternatives in place. The Authority would coordinate health facility construction under a new Health Care Transformation and Construction Fund, which will help site and develop new clinics, ambulatory care and hospital construction based on community need.
De Blasio said a previous plan by the Berger Commission went through “three governors and the Mayor” but was never implemented.
De Blasio’s policy director Ben Furnas said the Authority would have a “bounded task” and would control the initial dispersal of any Federal and State funds made available by federal Medicaid waivers received by New York state. “It would have real teeth,” he said.
The plan also emphasizes implementing higher standards of care in hospitals, including city-run institutions like Kings County, Woodhull and Coney Island. “Two-thirds of Brooklyn’s hospitals were identified by the New York State Department of Health as having rates of Hospital Acquired Infections significantly higher than the state average,” de Blasio said.
Councilwoman Letitia James (Bed-Stuy-Fort Greene-Prospect Heights) endorsed de Blasio’s plan on Monday, saying, “The plan is thoughtful, deliberative and fulfils the needs of Brooklyn.” She called on Governor Cuomo to “cease and desist, rescind all the hospital closing plans in Brooklyn.”
Jane McGroarty, past president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, was concerned, however that the plan wouldn’t be a reality in time to save LICH. “The de Blasio plan may have merit but its timetable doesn’t address the immediate problem of the drastic loss of healthcare in western Brooklyn,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday. “The landscape of ideas and plans of solutions to Brooklyn’s healthcare problems is getting crowded. At the present time the SUNY RFP for LICH is the only real proposal on the table. I think we have to take it at face value, although there is much evidence that points to it merely being a stalking horse for luxury condos.”
De Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell responded to McGroarty's concerns late Monday. "We're very much in agreement," he said. "The priority for LICH and SUNY remains retaining emergency and primary care in the community until we have a new health care provider secured and on the site. But even as we tackle that challenge, we need to prevent other hospitals from reaching this same point of crisis."
De Blasio's plan was also endorsed by City Councilman Brad Lander, the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers, the New York State Nurses Association and Dr. Sepideh Sedgh, President of the Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU Healthcare.
The full plan can be found at: www.advocate.nyc.gov/healthcare
Updated at 7:16 p.m. with a quote from Jane McGroarty of the Broolyn Heights Association.
Updated at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday with a response from de Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell.