LICH remains open
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn is in the midst of an “epidemic of hospital closures,” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said at a Borough Hall press conference on Friday, as the news spread that Interfaith Medical Center could close at any moment.
De Blasio joined community advocates and hospital staff from Interfaith Medical Center and Long Island College Hospital (LICH) to support a restructuring plan for Interfaith and call on the state Department of Health to work on a plan that would keep both Brooklyn hospitals open.
Interfaith, the only full-service hospital in Bedford-Stuyvesant, submitted a closure plan to the state Department of Health on July 25, along with a revision of an earlier restructuring plan which had been rejected.
“The restructuring plan is not under consideration,” state DOH spokesperson James O'Hare told the Brooklyn Eagle on Friday. “The State Health Department notified Interfaith Medical Center in a July 19 letter that the Hospital’s Restructuring Proposal does not present a plan that would successfully meet the healthcare needs of the community in a fiscally viable manner and that the Proposal cannot be modified to resolve the Department’s findings.”
De Blasio pointed the finger at SUNY and the state Department of Health for “standing in the way of health care in Brooklyn.”
SUNY Downstate has been attempting to close LICH, in Cobble Hill, in the face of numerous court challenges and widespread protests from the community.
“SUNY Downstate, part of the state government, has violated court orders again and again, and there are human consequences,” de Blasio said, describing a patient who died after being transferred from LICH and an 81-year-old mentally-impaired man who is missing after he was “apparently turned out and sent away without anyone to help.” De Blasio also said that an infant in respiratory distress had finally been admitted to LICH yesterday over the objections of administrators, after intervention by himself and Assemblywoman Joan Millman.
One court order against closing LICH, filed by the New York State Nurses Association, was stayed on Thursday. Another order, filed by de Blasio, is still in effect and the hospital is still legally barred from closing. A hearing is scheduled for August 7th.
De Blasio said that unlike SUNY Downstate, Interfaith’s leadership turned to the state Department of Health for help but was rejected. “I’m calling on the Department of Health to get together with the community to do a restructuring that will save the hospital,” he said.
“We’ve lost 12 hospitals in the 12 years under Mayor Bloomberg,” de Blasio said. “If SUNY and the state health department get their way, a quarter million Brooklynites will have to travel farther to the nearest emergency room. When you’re having a stroke or a heart attack, minutes matter. Distance matters. We can—and must—end this epidemic of hospital closures.”
Kirsten John Foy, Chair of the Brooklyn Conference of Chapters of the National Action Network, said that the hospital closings are “one of the most critical civil rights issues today. Communities of color are being targeted.” LICH serves a large minority population in Red Hook, while Interfaith “is on the front lines of fighting the gun violence and HIV/AIDS. Its closure equates to a death sentence for hundreds, if not thousands of black and Latino New Yorkers.”
“This is the fastest growing county in the state, and the fourth-largest city in the country,” Foy said. “If you close health care, you’re sending a message to people all over urban America that we don’t care about you. That is not the message Obamacare was designed to send.”
Interfaith nurses Charmane Sadler-Walker and Sharon Bedford jointly commented, “Do you expect people with AIDS to sit on the sidewalk and beg like lepers?” Roughly 40 percent of patients at Interfaith suffer from AIDS.
Interfaith employee Carmen Alston-Davis said, “Not only do we serve HIV-positive people, we serve psychiatric patients, who will be running on the streets. Kings County does not have the capacity to serve this community.”
“Interfaith Medical Center must remain open. Hundreds of thousands of central Brooklyn patients will be left without access to care if this vital community hospital is forced to shut its doors,” Jill Furillo, executive director of the NYS Nurses Association said in a statement.
Updated grammar at 6:15 p.m.