By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Financially troubled SUNY Downstate wants to build a brand-new hospital in East Flatbush to replace it’s crumbling University Hospital, Crain's New York Pulse has reported.
The new hospital’s construction would be funded by the proceeds of selling 150-year-old Long Island College Hospital (LICH) in Cobble Hill.
The hospital could be run as a for-profit. On January 25, Gov. Cuomo proposed a budget which included a pilot program that would allow business corporations to own and operate two hospitals in New York State, one to be located in Kings County.
SUNY Downstate did not return calls and emails on Tuesday regarding the report.
SUNY’s acquisition of LICH in 2011 has been criticized as a management fiasco, with a near-total lack of follow-through and a bungled billing process leading to millions in uncollected payments.
If the Crain’s report is accurate, however, it would cast SUNY’s mismanagement of LICH in a different light.
The decision to pull the plug on LICH followed a contentious public hearing on February 7 in Midtown Manhattan at which SUNY was derided for not making a sincere effort to save the Cobble Hill medical center.
SUNY Chairman Carl McCall has repeatedly denied – including at the February 7 hearing – that SUNY had planned to sell off LICH in order to get its hands on its real estate millions.
Councilman Brad Lander asked McCall then, “Was there a good faith effort to integrate LICH into the [larger medical] system, or was there some attention being paid to several hundred million dollars — possibly 500 million dollars — in real estate?
McCall replied, “The answer is no. There is no plan with respect to the real estate."
But when Lander fired back, "Will you commit to us that you will not sell off the real estate?" McCall declined, stating that disposition of LICH's real estate was not on the board's agenda.
SUNY is moving to shut down LICH even before the state Health Department approves a closing plan.
A dialysis center at LICH was told even before the hearing to stop accepting patients and to vacate. Nurses also report that last weekend, LICH ambulances were being told “unofficially” to bring patients to other hospitals instead of LICH.
Julie Semente, an RN at LICH, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday, “Co-workers at Methodist Hospital reported that LICH ambulances were working there over the weekend and that they were told LICH is on ‘unofficial diversion’ because it is closing, even though that decision has not been made by the state Department of Health or Governor so far.
“Bay Ridge (former Victory Memorial) urgent care patients were being transported to Downstate Flatbush instead of to LICH as was the practice,” she said. “Over the weekend, LICH was staffed but the ER was empty.”
“Crain’s is reporting something we had heard about 10 days ago, at the same time that we also heard that doctors at LICH were instructed not to admit any new patients,” Judy Stanton, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Heights Association told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday.
“It reads very badly, doesn't it? At a bare minimum you would expect the State Department of Health and Governor Cuomo to be calling for a complete and impartial investigation of just how SUNY's management of LICH has devolved to this extreme,” she said.
Dr. John Williams, president of Downstate, appears anxious to clear medical staff out of LICH. He said on Friday that “realistically we know as soon as word gets out today, patients are going to stop coming,” and that doctors and nurses who could find other jobs would leave, the New York Times reported.
SUNY Downstate spokesman Robert Bellafiore told the Brooklyn Eagle last week, “Only after Health Department approval can layoff notices be sent out – though, as a practical matter hospital staff would likely start looking for jobs before official notices were sent.”