SUNY puts 650 LICH employees on 'administrative leave'
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Hundreds mourning the imminent “death” of two major Brooklyn Hospitals, Long Island College Hospital (LICH) and Interfaith Medical Center, took part in a spectacle-filled New Orleans-style funeral march over the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall late Wednesday.
While a brass band played funeral jazz, weeping protesters carried coffins and tombstones. Cars, including a gray hearse, blocked traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge. Hundreds joined the procession on the Manhattan side and still more merged with the crowd at Foley Square.
About a dozen protesters – including City Councilman Brad Lander, nurses, community members, workers from SEIU 1199 and others – were arrested as they blocked traffic on the bridge in a deliberate act of civil disobedience.
Lander – who was honored by President Barack Obama the day before his arrest – said the protesters did it to draw attention to the increasingly dire situation at LICH.
“State University of New York, which manages LICH, has violated court orders and broken the law as it seeks to close this much needed, much used community hospital, all without serious legal consequences,” Lander said. “When I break the law, I’m arrested. When SUNY breaks the law, there needs to be consequences.”
Cash-strapped Downstate says it can’t afford to operate LICH, and has been dismantling it in order to “monetize” its valuable real estate assets as part of its own survival plan.
A slew of elected officials joined in the march, including Assemblywoman Joan Millman, Councilmembers Steve Levin and Letitia James, City Comptroller and Mayoral candidate John Liu, and Public Advocate and Mayoral Candidate Bill de Blasio, who marched with his wife and two children.
Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes has scheduled a hearing for next Monday to consider holding SUNY Downstate Medical Center in contempt for violating an order keeping LICH in operation.
The order was modified by the Appellate Division to require that SUNY Downstate maintain the level of service at LICH that was provided at the hospital as of 4 p.m. on Friday.
The Brooklyn DA’s office is also considering charges.
For the last several weeks, Downstate has barred ambulances from bringing patients to LICH’s emergency room, creating long delays in ER s across Brooklyn. LICH medical staff submitted affidavits saying that Downstate prevented them from treating patients, shut down departments and transferred patients from LICH over the weekend in violation of the restraining order.
The hospital’s fight for survival has intensified over the last week or two, with nearly daily protests or court appearances.
In the latest salvo, Downstate placed 650 LICH employees on administrative leave on Wednesday.
Downstate spokesperson Bob Bellafiore told the Brooklyn Eagle via email on Wednesday, “To address the disparity between staffing levels and patient volume, today some 650 employees are being placed on paid administrative leave, effective immediately. This covers multiple job areas. These employees will continue to receive full pay and benefits but are not required to report to work.”
Interfaith Medical Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. The state Department of Health rejected the hospital’s restructuring plan this month and told Interfaith it had to submit a closing plan by Thursday.
The NYS Nurses Association said that Interfaith is the only full-service hospital in Bed-Stuy, a federally designated healthcare provider shortage area.
Likewise, LICH, in Cobble Hill, is the only hospital in a swath of Brooklyn running from Red Hook to DUMBO and Downtown. Red Hook is also a federally designated healthcare provider shortage area.