By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Thursday is the last chance for Brooklyn to make its case for keeping Long Island College Hospital (LICH) open in Cobble Hill.
The Board of Trustees of the State University of New York (SUNY) will be holding a special hearing from 3 – 5 p.m. in Manhattan on Thursday afternoon, with a public comment period starting around 3:30 p.m. On Friday morning SUNY will announce its final decision. A press conference and community meeting will be held at Brooklyn Borough Hall Friday morning.
A NYS Comptroller audit revealed SUNY Downstate Medical Center's takeover of LICH two years ago was a financial disaster for both institutions.
LICH was abandoned by Continuum Health Partners -- another “merger” that proved catastrophic for LICH -- in 2011. Many in Brooklyn are still bitter after LICH’s affiliation with Continuum left it stripped of assets, including valuable real estate.
LICH is still said to be worth more dead than alive, however, with estimates of the hospital’s property value ranging into the hundreds of millions of dollars in Brownstone Brooklyn’s red-hot real estate market.
While civic groups and LICH’s nurses organization intend to address SUNY trustees on Thursday, some feel the hearing is a sham.
Roy Sloane, president of the Cobble Hill Association, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday, “I feel a hearing taking place on Thursday for a Friday vote is a foregone conclusion. If the state were interested in meaningful comments they would have more than a 24-hour comment period.
“I don’t think anybody’s being fooled,” he said. “It’s a mockery of the public process.”
He added, “Any words that any citizen in Cobble Hill can say to undo this decision –- if there are any words, they’re best made by the Brooklyn delegation.”
Sloane said SUNY probably had already made their decision two or three months ago, when Dr. John Williams, president of SUNY Downstate, backed out of a speaking engagement at a Cobble Hill general meeting. “The decision is being made above the level of the citizens and the community boards.”
Judy Stanton, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, echoed Sloan's sentiments. "It's wrong for SUNY to be making a decision before the community has been consulted, especially since there’s some dispute about certain facts regarding finances and the number of empty beds. It’s a sham for SUNY to be acting so precipitously,” she told the Eagle.
SUNY did not respond to questions about the hearing by press time on Tuesday.
David Doyle, spokesman for SUNY chairman Carl McCall, confirmed in January that SUNY trustees were discussing closing LICH. “The Board has requested that the newly appointed management provide recommendations for immediate action to mitigate losses," read SUNY's statement. "Based on those recommendations, the Board has discussed the possibility of closing LICH and Chairman McCall reiterated that this was a possibility."
While SUNY’s takeover of LICH —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 Downstate's Dr. Williams met with local representatives including Assemblywoman Joan Millman, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, state Senator Daniel Squadron, Councilman Stephen Levin and Borough President Marty Markowitz in mid-January at Borough Hall.
Since that announcement local pols, hospital staff and residents have held rallies, signed petitions and written countless letters pointing out the need for a hospital in this part of Brooklyn, along with the many broken promises surrounding LICH’s acquisition by both Continuum and SUNY Downstate. Thousands signed a petition started online by Assemblywoman Joan Millman.
Assemblywoman Millman told the Brooklyn Eagle in January that closing LICH would cause mountains of pain for Downtown Brooklyn and neighborhoods from DUMBO to Red Hook. “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.”
The Brooklyn Eagle reported on Monday that LICH's hospital staff now fears that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to close LICH and replace it with a for-profit hospital, something that has never been allowed in New York State before.
On January 25, Gov. Cuomo proposed 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. President Obama’s new health insurance and Medicare laws promise to be a bonanza for health care providers starting in 2014.
“The governor and real estate developers are pushing an experimental for-profit healthcare pilot program,” Linda O’Neill, an RN at LICH said in a statement. “Brooklyn patients are their guinea pigs.” The statement issued by rallying RNs blamed the financial crisis facing the hospital in part “to gross financial mismanagement of private consulting firms.”
The public hearing will take place Thursday, February 7 at the School of Optometry, 33 W. 42nd Street in Manhattan.
You must register by noon on Wednesday, February 6, and include the subject of your comments, a telephone number, e-mail and address. Comments will be limited to no more than three minutes per speaker, except for elected officials, who will be given up to five minutes each.
Persons who are not registered by noon on Wednesday must register in advance the day of the meeting by arriving at least 30 minutes in advance (that is, by 2:30 p.m. on February 7th) and should give their name to the Public Comment Registration Officer. They will be allowed to speak for three minutes only if time allows.