Form human chain across Atlantic Avenue
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In what has become a rite of passage in Brooklyn, more elected representatives and community leaders were arrested on Monday while protesting the closure of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) in Cobble Hill.
At noon, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, her coordinator Dan Wiley, District Leader Jo Anne Simon, and five other LICH advocates committed civil disobedience by creating a human chain across Atlantic Avenue, blocking traffic.
After they were handcuffed and brought to the 76th Precinct, a large group of LICH supporters gathered behind barricades there as a “welcoming committee.” Shortly before 2 p.m., Velázquez, Simon and others emerged triumphantly, fist in air, to the cheers of supporters.
“I was willing to be arrested because my community needs LICH. I have no regrets,” Velázquez said in a statement via Twitter.
In a statement after her release, Velázquez said, “Despite three legal restraining orders to prevent LICH’s closure, SUNY has been actively working to shut down this important local healthcare center. Governor Cuomo must work with all stakeholders – including the community – to develop a plan that keeps LICH operational.
“Access to quality health care can be a life or death issue,” she said. “It is irresponsible to block patients from visiting this facility in an attempt to shutter LICH."
For Brooklyn residents who live in neighborhoods like Red Hook, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and DUMBO, LICH is the closest emergency room. Red Hook, in particular, relies solely on LICH for healthcare and has been designated a “Health Professional Shortage Area” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Velázquez said that LICH stayed open during Hurricane Sandy, when other health care facilities closed due to flooding. “We’re already seeing how our medical system is strained when LICH does not accept new patients. Imagine how much worse the situation could be during the next storm or other catastrophe.”
Jill Furillo, executive director of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), said in a statement, "On behalf of the tens of thousands of members of NYSNA, I want to extend a big thank you to Nydia Velázquez and the other patient champions who were arrested for civil disobedience today.
"The New York State Department of Health is rubber-stamping dangerous plans to deny healthcare to hundreds of thousands of Brooklyn patients,” Furillo said. “The patient champions who were arrested today sent our state officials a strong message: we will do whatever it takes to keep our hospitals open for care."
Rep. Velázquez, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, hospital staff and local residents were participating in one of the almost daily demonstrations outside the 155-year-old hospital.
“I applaud NydiaVelazquez and courageous community leaders joining in civil disobedience,” de Blasio said. “This is a choice between health care for the people, and luxury condos for the rich. We do not let people divide and conquer us.”
De Blasio also said supporters were fighting to save another Brooklyn hospital threatened with immediate closure, Interfaith Medical Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant. “The struggle to save LICH is the struggle to save Interfaith. We are united. We will be there, one for the other, to protect health care for all of Brooklyn.”
De Blasio was himself arrested on July 10 for protesting LICH’s closure, as was City Council Member Steve Levin along with roughly a dozen other LICH supporters. Assemblywoman Joan Millman was one of three people arrested at a protest on July 11. About ten people were arrested during a “funeral march” over the Brooklyn Bridge for the hospital on July 25, including Council Member Brad Lander.
Financially ailing SUNY Downstate, which took over LICH two years ago, says it can’t afford to operate the hospital. Despite a court order to keep LICH open, Downstate has shut down LICH’s critical care areas and banned ambulances from bringing patients to the emergency room, creating hours-long delays at ERs across Brooklyn.
LICH, while nominally open, is on lockdown, with both armed and unarmed security guards from three different agencies posted at all entrances both inside and outside the hospital, and on the blocks surrounding LICH. Doctors have complained that the guards were put in place as part of a campaign to intimidate patients and staff.
A temporary restraining order secured by de Blasio mandates LICH remain open for care. De Blasio, six community groups, nurses and health care workers are due in court this Wednesday for a hearing on their lawsuits to prevent the hospital’s closure. The Office of the Public Advocate is being represented by the firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
De Blasio has also put forward a plan for a Brooklyn Health Authority to oversee healthcare across Brooklyn communities.
This story was updated at 2:42 p.m. with a quote from the NYSNA.
This story was updated at 4:15 p.m. with a quote from Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez