By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio, elected officials and supporters of Interfaith Medical Center gathered on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall on Friday to announce they would be back in Federal Bankruptcy Court on Monday to ask Chief Judge Carla E. Craig for more time to come up with a solution to save the beleaguered hospital.
“On Monday in Bankruptcy Court, we will call for a 30-day extension,” de Blasio said. “The health care system must be maintained” while Interfaith “links up to a long-term solution, a clean handoff.”
Interfaith, the only hospital serving Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, was slated to begin shutting down in August but received a reprieve following legal actions by de Blasio. De Blasio, as Public Advocate, has played a major role in keeping another threatened Brooklyn hospital, Long Island College Hospital (LICH) in Cobble Hill, open as well.
“Interfaith has ideas on the table,” de Blasio said. “For both LICH and Interfaith, solutions are available. We just need the courts to give us time to get to these solutions.”
De Blasio said that a previous ruling by the state Supreme Court had voided all hospital closures in New York because “the Department of Health had not considered the community’s needs, and the domino effect the closures would have. The courts have said consistently that we can’t close hospitals without considering the effect on the community.”
In September, state Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes ruled that the state’s regulations for closing hospitals were “unconstitutionally vague,” and that DOH did not take the needs of the community into consideration when it approved SUNY Downstate’s plan to close LICH. His ruling not only affected LICH’s closure plan, but also has implications for future closures of all state hospitals including Interfaith.
The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) says that DOH “should not use the bankruptcy proceeding as a cover to avoid its legal obligation to keep the hospital open.”
Jill Furillo, Executive Director for NYSNA, said, “A judge has ruled that Interfaith must be kept open until we figure out what are the health care needs of the community. This has to happen before we 'burn down' the existing facilities, especially in underserved communities like those served by Interfaith.”
Furillo said a coalition that includes members of NYSNA and 1199 SEIU, plus doctors, Central Brooklyn community boards, and church and area leaders, was conducting a community assessment. “If Interfaith closes, it will have a very dire effect on the community. Many people could die, we will lose psychiatric services, and the hospitals surrounding Interfaith will be impacted.”
Bruce Richard, Executive Vice President of 1199 SEIU, called the hospital’s closure “a social justice issue. They are pulling the rug out from underneath [the community] with no plan in place, and no contingency. It’s unacceptable that on Monday they could leave this community without a plan, without a transition so the community is not abandoned. I hope the bankruptcy judge on Monday does the right thing.”
Assemblymember Annette Robinson said, “We cannot allow the government to press the ‘delete button’ on health care for our community,” adding, “We live in this community, we don’t fly in from any place.”
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz made an impassioned plea. “There’s a craziness going on here. On the one hand, President Obama and the states want as many folks as possible to have health insurance. On the other hand, they’re taking away healthcare facilities!”
Interfaith has been losing more than a million dollars a month, according to published reports, due in part to a 40 percent loss of state Medicaid reimbursements starting in 2010. In June, Interfaith submitted a restructuring plan to DOH, which was rejected.
De Blasio issued a report over the summer showing that the loss of Interfaith would push more than 175,000 Brooklynites farther from their nearest emergency room, and would leave nearly 70,000 people who use Interfaith’s out-patient psychiatric facilities without any services in their own community. LICH’s service area covers 75,000 people, from underserved Red Hook to rapidly growing Boerum Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, and DUMBO.
These hospitals are the ‘go to’ location, the first place for healthcare, for a quarter of a million people. That’s why they’re so crucial,” he said.