By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The announcement that University Hospital of Brooklyn at Long Island College Hospital would lay off approximately 150 employees hasn’t given rise to panic — unlike the hospital’s announcement in 2008 that it planned to close its pediatric and maternity departments.
Nevertheless, it has made people in the community somewhat uncomfortable.
At the same time, reacting to a request from several Brooklyn state legislators, state Comptroller Thomas DeNapoli announced that his office has begun an audit of SUNY Downstate Medical Center and its affiliates — one of which is LICH.
Both the audit and the layoffs make it clear that while the 2011 merger between SUNY Downstate and LICH freed LICH from the control of its unpopular former parent company, Continuum Health Partners, the Cobble Hill hospital isn’t out of the woods financially.
SUNY Downstate’s official statement, provided to the Brooklyn Eagle by Downstate spokesman Ron Najman, said:
“SUNY Downstate Medical Center is undergoing serious financial pressure. The organization’s leadership — in partnership with the SUNY administration — is reviewing all operations and making the changes necessary to achieve financial stability while continuing to serve its mission of education and provide high quality, safe patient care services to the people of Brooklyn.”
“Although the extent of the reduction is not yet known, we are making every effort to minimize the impact on Downstate staff,” said Dr. Ian Taylor, officer-in-charge of Downstate Medical Center.
A window into the problems of both LICH and SUNY Downstate was provided by Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D-Brooklyn Heights), one of the officials who brokered the 2011 deal between the two institutions.
Millman, who sits on the LICH Advisory Board, said that the new layoffs were discussed at two meetings that she attended, one in Albany with the state Department of Health and a later one with a group of elected officials.
Originally, she said, SUNY Downstate had sought to lay off “closer to 200” employees, but it was able to place about 50 into other positions within the SUNY network.
The layoffs, she said, are “across the board,” with all types of positions represented, including some doctors whose contracts have expired.
Discussing the hospital’s financial problems, Millman said that it, like all hospitals, is suffering from decreases in Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates.
In addition, during the Continuum era, “LICH lost much of its client base. When they announced plans to close their Pediatric and Maternity department, many of the patients just left and became patients at other hospitals,” she said.
One Brooklyn mom expressed disappointment after receiving a letter from her LICH-affiliated pediatrician telling her she would no longer be able to serve the community.
“I’m very disappointed. She was the best pediatrician in our health plan,” she said.
On June 18, five Brooklyn state senators — Eric Adams, Velmanette Montgomery, Kevin Parker, John Sampson and Dan Squadron — wrote to Comptroller Napoli, demanding an audit.
“It would be egregious for the state to permit layoffs which would negatively affect New York’s economy, without a comprehensive audit,” they said.
“The situation is dire,” the senators continued. “On June 12, 2012, the Board of Trustees of SUNY felt compelled to pass a resolution providing a $75 million 'bridge loan' to Donwstate. This drastic measure was taken to ensure viability in the near term.”
Napoli announced his audit on July 17. In response, state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Downtown Brooklyn/Lower Manhattan), who represents the area around LICH, said, “Over the past few years we fought hard to keep LICH open, and ensure that Downstate’s vital services are kept accessible to residents across the borough.
“Now health care access for our neighborhoods and the entire borough, as well as thousands of jobs, hang in the balance. Our community needs a full accounting of Downstate’s finances.”
One leader of a nearby community, Howard Kolins of the Boerum Hill, said that it was too early to gauge the result of the layoffs, but “if they decide to close departments and reduce the number of beds, it will certainly have an effect.
“Many people in this neighborhood see LICH as their neighborhood hospital,” he said. “They certainly use LICH’s emergency room. We see EMS vehicles from LICH on our streets every day.”
LICH has about 2,000 employees overall. Those who were laid off will likely have a difficult time finding new jobs, said Millman, because during today’s economic recession, people who do have jobs are unlikely to leave them.