By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Long Island College Hospital (LICH) in Cobble Hill could close “imminently,” sources told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Speculation that LICH would close have been swirling across Brooklyn all week. An insider told the Brooklyn Eagle that the hospital was “worth more dead than alive.”
SUNY Downstate Medical Center in East Flatbush, itself financially troubled, acquired LICH in 2011.
Assemblywomen Joan Millman, who sits on the LICH Advisory Board, told the Brooklyn Eagle last weekend the news was “a real shock.”
Before the SUNY/ LICH takeover, “We were told it was viable; we didn’t know SUNY’s finances were so bad. We were operating in a vacuum. If it wasn’t going to be feasible, we should have known beforehand," she said.
“From December of last year to January of this year 11,000 people were served in the ER. Where are these people going to go?”
She added, “1,900 people work at LICH. Closing the hospital would have a devastating effect on the local economy.”
Many stakeholders were out of town for the Presidential inauguration, Millman said, but a rally was planned for this Friday after they returned. Nurses at LICH also told the Eagle that they planned to rally.
While SUNY’s takeover of LICH — which is now called University Hospital of Brooklyn at Long Island College Hospital — was originally looked upon as a lifeline, it now appears possible that LICH could be sacrificed to ensure that SUNY Downstate, a major teaching and hospital center in East Flatbush, survives.
H. Carl McCall, the chairman of the SUNY board, and Dr. John Williams, president of Downstate, met with local representatives including Millman, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, state Senator Daniel Squadron, Councilman Stephen Levin and Borough President Marty Markowitz late last week at Borough Hall.
“The two gentlemen said that potentially, the two hospitals could close at the end of March,” Millman said. “Every single week LICH loses money, some of it from factors beyond their control.
"The state reduced money it gives to hospitals, and we have more patients relying on Medicaid and Medicare while the reimbursement rates have gone down. Malpractice rates are very high. And the LICH physical plant needs lots of work.”
In addition, LICH is “still carrying expenses from Continuum,” Millman said. “It’s like an onion — every time you peel a layer, something else comes out.”
Many in Brooklyn are still bitter after LICH’s earlier “merger” with Continuum Health Partners left it stripped of assets, including valuable real estate. Continuum doctors have been accused of steering patients to the network’s Manhattan hospitals, such as Beth Israel. LICH is said to have an average of 284 unused beds, excluding maternity, every day.
The Comptroller’s Audit
A report from state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli issued January 17 confirmed that SUNY Downstate is “hemorrhaging millions of dollars every week.” The report called Downstate’s acquisition of two hospitals, LICH and Victory Memorial “a major cause of Downstate’s fiscal stress.”
While the audit said SUNY Downstate assumed both assets and “substantial” liabilities from LICH, Downstate President Williams asserted that LICH’s assets were higher than previously estimated – from "$280 million to $550 million," reports Crain’s New York. Further, he said, SUNY won’t be responsible for about $140 million worth of potential LICH medical malpractice claims. A trust set up from LICH endowment funds will cover those payments.
According to DiNapoli’s report, $32.7 million was transferred from LICH’s accounts to SUNY's “Health Science Center at Brooklyn Foundation, Inc.” a not-for-profit corporation which operates and manages “educationally related activities” for SUNY Downstate students and faculty, along with a parking lot.
Over the weekend, various ideas were being floated to “keep at LICH a semblance of what we had before,” Millman said. “Maybe we can salvage something.”
Ideas considered included “a streamlined use of the space,” and partnering with other hospitals to provide partial services.
“People of good will are trying to save some of the services,” she said. “But you can’t save services people don’t use.”