Ideas offered at meeting to save SUNY Downstate

At Monday’s town hall looking for suggestions to save financially troubled SUNY Downstate Medical Center, many supporters of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) said that the process of coming up with a workable plan to save the Medical Center – and with it, LICH – was too rushed and did not truly include the community.

State Senator Daniel Squadron thanked Chairman McCall “for the opportunity to submit testimony” but added, “It’s crucial that any decision on LICH and Downstate’s future includes community and legislative input. I continue to urge the state to form a working group to ensure those voices are a key part of the process.”

LICH, in Cobble Hill, has been tethered to SUNY Downstate in East Flatbush since SUNY took it over two years ago. After an initial attempt to close the 155-year-old hospital was shot down, SUNY issued a Request for Information (RFI) on May 1 from qualified parties who might take over some or all of the operations of LICH.

“The first thing I want to say is that this town hall meeting is not a substitute for meaningful, serious consultation with stakeholders. Our three-minute comments today are not the consultation with stakeholders required by law,” said LICH nurse Carmen Pimentel.

While the RFI is “an encouraging development,” she said, “The time frame is too short. Any questions about LICH and the RFI had to be submitted by May 15th and submission of responses are due no later than May 22 – that’s this Wednesday.  The RFI document offers very little insight into hospital finances, a tad more information about current operations, and a great deal of detail about LICH real estate.”

SUNY Downstate, which has been losing money since 2007, must deliver a “Sustainability Plan” to the State Department of Health and the Governor’s Division of the Budget by June 1, and begin implementing it on June 15.

While SUNY has portrayed LICH as a money-loser, some see the Brownstone Brooklyn hospital as the possible salvation of nearly-bankrupt SUNY Downstate. With SUNY Downstate’s “crumbling physical plant,” they say that many doctors might rather see private pay patients at LICH, with 16 modern operating rooms.

Roy Sloane, President of the Cobble Hill Association (CHA), said, “A good way to make SUNY profitable is to make LICH profitable.” Sloane said that LICH “has to provide the service the community wants. We’ve been telling you this for years. Otherwise, you’ll only get the people the ambulance scraped off the highway.”

But Sloane said he got the impression that SUNY was not interested in his opinion.  “There were armed guards by the microphones,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It was intimidating. They kept calling out how much time you had left to speak.

“I hope it was a genuine session – but it had all the hallmarks of a rush to prove they held meetings and now they’re going to close LICH,” Sloane said.

Herdley Hill, a nurse at LICH and a member of the NYS Nurses Association (NYSNA), testified that “SUNY has been secretive and far from transparent.”

Hill said that the 2013 budget specifically directed SUNY to consult with labor and community representatives in creating a sustainability plan. On May 3 the NYSNA sent a letter to Dr. John Williams, President of SUNY Downstate, proposing the creation of “a committee of stakeholders so that all impacted parties would work collaboratively to find a sustainable long-term solution for all SUNY Downstate operations, including LICH,” Hill said.

“But we received no response to our letter. Instead of seeking meaningful input, SUNY is holding this so-called town hall meeting, which by no means fulfills SUNY’s legal obligations.”

SUNY Downstate spokesperson Bob Bellafiore told the Brooklyn Eagle, “We’re taking the comments in the spirit they were given and taking all advice seriously.” While the three-minute time limit was imposed so all would be able to comment, “people are invited to submit written testimony as long and as detailed and imaginative as they want.” And “the sooner the better,” he added.

The deadline was determined by the budget, “set by the two houses of the legislature and signed by the Governor,” he said. “We’re living within the timeframe set by Albany.”

When asked if it was a reasonable timeframe he said, “It doesn’t matter what I think, it’s the law.”

Bellafiore said that a number of ideas had already been submitted to SUNY Downstate. “Equalizing Medicaid reimbursement rates between Brooklyn and Manhattan; Section 8 assisted living at LICH; procurement inefficiencies; increasing the collection time on outstanding bills – all interesting concepts,” he said.

But CHA’s Sloane remains skeptical. “I wonder if you have several executives making hundreds of thousands a year and spend millions on consultants and you didn’t listen to their advice, why would you listen to people who walk in off the street?

(Testimony can be submitted to: [email protected] )