Downstate will hunt for a new operator
By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Several months of protests, letter-writing campaigns, meetings with state officials and court action finally saw some results on Friday when SUNY Downstate Medical Center, the “parent company” of Cobble Hill’s Long Island College Hospital (LICH), said it would withdraw its plan, which it had earlier submitted to the state Department of Health, to close LICH.
Instead, said Ron Najman, spokesman for Downstate, in a statement, Downstate “would continue to seek a provider of healthcare services within the LICH community, including potentially a hospital operator.”
Just recently, Dr. Toomas Soora, president of Concerned Physicians of LICH, told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that representatives of Hackensack University Medical Center and North Shore-Long Island Jewish Hospital had sat down with LICH doctors for discussions about purchasing the hospital. At the time, however, the overture was rebuffed by Downstate.
Downstate still made it clear, in its statement, that it still sees LICH’s long-running monetary problems as a threat to the parent hospital, which itself is in a precarious financial state.
“The financial conditions at LICH remain unchanged. LICH’s continued financial losses still threaten the viability of Downstate Medical and our world-renowned medical school,” said Dr. John F. Williams Jr., president of SUNY Downstate. “We are withdrawing the closure plan so we can work with the state and other stakeholders on a sustainability plan for Brooklyn’s only medical school and to ensure quality medical care throughout the borough.”
He made it clear that the recent court actions concerning the LICH closure led, in part, to the withdrawal of the plan. “The current legal proceedings prohibit this dialogue,” said Williams.
Although the SUNY board voted to close LICH in March, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes issued a temporary restraining order on April 1 that barred the state from shutting down LICH pending a May 2 hearing.
People in the health community and surrounding neighborhoods hailed the stunning, unexpected statement as a victory.
"This is an incredible victory for Brooklyn patients. We want to thank Governor Cuomo for helping us find solutions to Brooklyn's healthcare crisis," said Jill Furillo, RN, executive director of the New York State Nurses Association.
“We are encouraged by SUNY’s decision to withdraw the closure plan,” said Sorra of Concerned Physicians of LICH. "We are committed to the restoration and improvement of services at LICH.”
On Thursday, City Council members voted unanimously in favor of a resolution calling on SUNY and the Department of Health to work with stakeholders to find another operator for LICH.
Some observers felt that the fact that Christine Quinn, the powerful speaker of the City Council, had gotten on board with the pro-LICH cause helped to swing the “facts on the ground” in LICH’s favor.
“This is an incredible victory for Downtown Brooklyn and its residents and the entire health care system of New York City,” said Quinn.
Council Member Brad Lander, who represents Cobble Hill, said, “I am so glad that the message was heard, and that LICH will continue to provide quality medical care to patients throughout Brooklyn.”
Council Member Stephen Levin, who represents neighboring Brooklyn Heights, added, “The message was clear: LICH saves lives. It is because of the relentless efforts of all the doctors, nurses, patients, elected leaders and advocates that SUNY has heard our call and LICH will continue to provide care for Brooklyn.”
State Sen. Daniel Squadron, who also represents LICH, said, “We've been making our voices heard loud and clear: LICH is vital to Brooklyn. And it's clear we're being heard.”
Before its acquisition by Downstate, LICH had lost money for some 15 consecutive years, according to Downstate. Now that SUNY has decided not to close LICH, said Dr. Williams, its main task is to develop a sustainability plan to ensure the state-run health institution’s future.