Christmas bonus puts hospital closure on hold until March 7
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In a dramatic last-minute deal on Monday, New York State gave Brooklyn’s Interfaith Medical Center an unexpected three-month reprieve.
The state Department of Health (DOH) contacted Interfaith's legal team with the news Monday morning, shortly before Interfaith was scheduled to submit its closure plan to Chief Bankruptcy Judge Carla E. Craig.
Interfaith, serving Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights and nearby areas, was expected to start its closure process on January 7, with all operations coming to an end on January 26. The beleaguered hospital logged 11,000 inpatient visits and 250,000 outpatient visits last year, but was forced to file for bankruptcy last December after the state rejected its proposed restructuring plan.
"Interfaith lawyers received a phone call from the Department of Health this morning before they were supposed to submit the closure plan to the judge," Interfaith spokesperson Melissa Krantz told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday, after the bankruptcy hearing was cancelled.
"The Department of Health told Interfaith's lawyers they were giving Interfaith an extension of time and money to keep Interfaith open," Krantz said, adding that hospital employees' mood was "very good."
"We thought today was the end -- again. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and Public Advocate-elect Letitia James both came to the hospital as the administration was serving the staff lunch.
"It was pretty cool," she added.
Monday night DOH spokesperson Bill Schwarz confirmed Interfaith’s reprieve. “To ensure the health and safety needs of patients and residents of the community are met, the state will provide additional funding to Interfaith Medical Center (IMC) to enable facility operations to continue through March 7, 2014,” he said.
“During this period, the State Health Department will continue its review of IMC's transition plan and work closely with the facility towards final approval. The state is committed to establishing a quality, accessible and sustainable health care delivery system to serve patients and community residents.”
The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) and 1199 SEIU issued a joint statement on Monday.
"We're pleased by Gov. Cuomo's action today, and look forward to working with the state, our partners at NYSNA, and all stakeholders to secure federal funding for a long-term plan to keep Interfaith open for care," said 1199SEIU political director Kevin Finnegan.
“This is a victory for the 175,000 Brooklyn patients that depend on Interfaith for care,” said NYSNA Executive Director Jill Furillo, RN. “This would not have been possible without the tireless work of our coalition, including 1199SEIU, longtime healthcare advocates, community leaders, and elected allies. We applaud this step by the governor. Our coalition will continue to work with the state in every way possible to secure federal funding so that we can keep Interfaith open as a sustainable full-service hospital for the long-run.”
The groups said that state and local elected officials, along with community groups and unions were working to secure federal funding to find a long-term solution to keep the hospital from being shuttered.
Elected officials are awaiting word from U.S. Health and Human Services regarding the Medicaid waiver application that is still pending, said Stephanie Báez, spokesperson for Congressman Jeffries (NY-8). The waiver could funnel up to $10 billion to New York State.
On Friday, local and state elected officials had sent a letter to the Governor’s office asking him to postpone the hospital closure, saying that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers would lose their primary access to healthcare if Interfaith folded.
With extended funding, “We believe Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center would have time to determine a more financially feasible campus plan for the assumption of IMC,” officials said.
Elected officials expressed their gratitude on Monday and spoke of the need to double down on finding a long-term solution.
“The community is thankful that Governor Cuomo and the State Department of Health have recognized the need to continue supporting Interfaith Medical Center at this difficult moment,” said Rep. Jeffries. “The hospital remains on life support, but today we have taken a significant step forward by avoiding closure. Bedford-Stuyvesant and the communities of Central Brooklyn deserve a thriving medical institution, and we will not rest until that vision becomes a reality.”
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who has committed to saving troubled Brooklyn hospitals, including Long Island College Hospital in Cobble Hill, said, “Time and time again, 175,000 Brooklynites have faced the prospect of losing Interfaith Medical Center. And because this community has stood together, months later the doors remain open and people continue to get the medical care they need. We are grateful to Governor Cuomo for this additional time, and we will use it to push towards a durable solution that preserves vital healthcare in these already-underserved neighborhoods.
“We know there have to be changes—but we will fight to make sure those changes put the health and safety of the people of Brooklyn first,” de Blasio continued. “We will make the creation of a city-state Brooklyn Health Authority a top priority to protect community healthcare across the entire borough.”
Public Advocate-elect James said, “I am heartened at the decision to give Interfaith Medical Center, and the communities that so directly rely on it, more time to stay open as we fight for the hospital’s long-term viability.”
Borough President Marty Markowitz commented, “Brooklyn’s elected officials remain resolute on maintaining Interfaith Medical Center’s role as a healthcare facility in our community. I am encouraged by the commitment that Governor Cuomo is making to this institution, but I recognize that Central Brooklyn needs and deserves a long-term health care solution. In the critical weeks ahead, I hope that all stakeholders will do whatever possible to get Interfaith off life support and back to a healthy pulse.”
In November, Chief Bankruptcy Judge Carla E. Craig deferred making a final determination on closing the ailing Central Brooklyn hospital, instead assigning the case to mediation. Judge Craig assigned as mediator Judge Elizabeth Stong, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge for the Eastern District of New York.
The goal was to work out a compromise combining elements of plans submitted by Interfaith supporters, and a closure plan backed by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) and the state Department of Health.
Last week, however, it was reported that negotiations had stalled, and Judge Craig was expected to sign an order in Monday authorizing the closure to begin on January 7, with a final closure on Jan. 26.
Proposals put forward by the IM Foundation and other supporters were aimed at preserving Interfaith’s 287 inpatient hospital beds, 120 of which are for psychiatric patients.
The closure plan backed by DASNY and DOH looked to shift Interfaith’s outpatient clinics and urgent care center to Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, but did not include the hospital’s inpatient beds. Attorneys for DASNY and DOH agencies said that the state envisioned a new model of health care emphasizing clinics over hospitals.
The IM Foundation, Interfaith Advisory Board, hospital management, elected officials and labor representatives were scheduled to meet at the hospital late on Monday to discuss the next steps.