LICH supporters planned to serve papers on SUNY board members
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
SUNY Downstate’s plan to lay off 500 employees of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) came to a halt on Monday afternoon, just hours after LICH supporters including Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) and 1199 Healthcare Workers vowed to seek an injunction in court -- and go after individual SUNY board members.
“NYSNA has taken this matter to arbitration and we are abiding by the process,” said SUNY spokesperson Bob Bellafiore.
In a statement NYSNA said, “SUNY and Staffco have agreed that the major layoffs scheduled at LICH tomorrow will not take place. At minimum the layoffs are delayed for several weeks.” A spokesperson for NYSNA did not confirm that the group had taken the matter to arbitration.
"We are very pleased that SUNY backed away from its threatened layoffs and that the hospital remains open for care," said Jill Furillo, NYSNA's executive director. "This would not be possible without the on-going and committed efforts by Bill de Blasio in behalf of Brooklyn's healthcare and with the dedication of our colleagues at 1199 and among community organizations. This coalition has stood together throughout and today counts as another win for unity."
Last Thursday, SUNY informed about a third of LICH’s nurses and a quarter of its other health care workers that they would be laid off, despite numerous court orders mandating that LICH stay open and operational.
At noon on Monday de Blasio vowed, “We’re not gonna take it!” at a rally outside the threatened Cobble Hill hospital. “Take away the personnel, the hospital dies. These layoffs will close the ICU, cardiac catheter lab, maternity and child services, and undermine the ER. These layoffs are a closure by another name,” he said.
“Well, guess what? We’re going back to court,” he said. “After four months of flaunting the judge’s orders, we’re going back to Justice [Johnny Lee] Baynes to get an order to stop these layoffs dead in their tracks.”
NYSNA's Furillo told the crowd, “Individual SUNY board members will be served with papers today.”
By 3:45 p.m., however, reports leaked out via email and text chains that SUNY was “backing off.” Coalition members said the matter was complex, however, and full details were not hashed out.
A public meeting was planned for Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. at the Cobble Hill Health Center at 380 Henry Street, when more would be known.
De Blasio had pointed out earlier in the day that the layoffs were planned almost a year to the day after LICH proved how crucial it was to the entire city during Superstorm Sandy.
“It’s more than ironic these firings are happening on the first anniversary of Sandy,” de Blasio said. “Red Hook got hit so hard, it devastated the neighborhood and people suffered. LICH was there for them in their hour of need.”
De Blasio said that 75,000 people depend on LICH as their first option during an emergency, and 175,000 depend on Interfaith Medical Center. “LICH is literally a life line for a quarter of a million people.”
When asked if he would “soften” his opinion on LICH should he be elected mayor, as appears likely, de Blasio had just one word: “No.”
Furillo said the layoff notices were just the old closure plan in a new disguise. “The closure plan submitted by SUNY was rejected by the judge one and a half months ago for being unconstitutionally vague,” Furillo said. “Yet we received layoff notices last week that mimics the first phase of the closure plan rejected by the judge. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”
Estella Vasques, Executive VP of 1199 SEIU, said, “SUNY is acting like a bad landlord who wants to sell the building and turn it into condos. No way, Jose. The ink is not even dry on the judge’s orders.”
LICH supporters point to SUNY’s own actions, including closing functioning units, putting ambulances on diversion, and not billing for services, as leading to the loss of millions of dollars. But SUNY’s Bellafiore blamed LICH’s supporters for the hospitals’ losses. “The ongoing litigation continues to force SUNY to incur losses that are unnecessary to comply with the court orders. In fact since SUNY first submitted its sustainability plan -- where it expected to lose $34 million -- the plaintiffs actions have driven that number to an estimated $88 million.”
He said that SUNY would eventually cut staff. "Ultimately SUNY intends to take the responsible steps that are needed to align staffing levels with the greatly reduced patient volume and limited services available at the facility -- both of which are consistent with existing court orders.”
Sen. Daniel Squadron said the better that the Save LICH coalition (NYSNA, 1199, Patients for LICH, Concerned Physicians of LICH, and six community groups) did in court, “the more SUNY wants to close it. But until it gets a new operator, LICH isn’t going anywhere,” he added.
Deputy Borough President Sandra Chapman told the crowd, “We need to make sure SUNY is listening. We needed LICH last year, and we’ll need LICH in the future.”
Check back later for updates of this late-breaking story.