By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Despite impassioned statements from hospital staff, patients and community members, SUNY’s board of trustees voted on Tuesday to close Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital (LICH), at a meeting in Purchase, New York.
This is the second vote to close LICH. Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes ruled last Thursday the original board meeting didn’t comply with the Open Meetings Law.
While the roughly 120 LICH supporters who traveled to Purchase by bus Tuesday morning blamed SUNY Downstate for mismanaging the Cobble Hill hospital, SUNY said the move was necessary to save financially troubled SUNY Downstate in East Flatbush.
“The bottom line is when I got here we had two distressed hospitals,” said Downstate’s head, Dr. John Williams, during the hearing. “We are losing money -- $12 million a month between the two hospitals.” Dr. Williams added that the infrastructure “was falling apart.”
“There are five schools and 8,000 employees at UHB [University Hospital of Brooklyn, the teaching hospital at SUNY Downstate]. You nurses should understand, sometimes we have to make sacrifices.”
Mickey Green of the New York State Nurses Association, however, testified that if LICH were closed, “Two and a half million Brooklyn residents will suffer.”
Closing the hospital would have “a domino effect that would leave Brooklyn healthcare in a state of emergency, she said. “If LICH closes, Brooklyn will lose 16 fully equipped operating rooms and the only stroke center in the borough.” She added that closing LICH would overwhelm emergency rooms at other hospitals. “The ER’s at Maimonides, Kings County, Lutheran and Methodist are already overburdened.”
Referring to the speculation that SUNY Downstate aims to cash in on LICH’s prime Brownstone Brooklyn real estate, Green said, “SUNY is catering to real estate developers who build high rises, but high rises don’t save lives, hospitals do.”
H. Carl McCall, chair of the SUNY Board of Trustees, said later in the hearing, “Real estate was never discussed” in the closed executive session ruled not “open” by Judge Baynes.
“We don’t have a real estate plan. It’s true that if LICH were to close the state would like to get their money back,” he added, as boos broke out from the audience.
Herdley Hill, a registered nurse at LICH’s Department of Psychiatry for 13 years, told the Brooklyn Eagle, “I think it’s a mistake in a long litany of mistakes. It defies logic, but I’m not surprised, and neither are the patients. They just rubber-stamped a decision made previously.”
Hill said that SUNY had persisted in “making statements that are totally incorrect” and vowed that hospital supporters would “pursue all available options.”
“You can’t rely on what they say – they said LICH had 500-plus beds, then they retracted it when evidence showed there are only 250 beds. Yesterday we had 230 in the hospital and 60 in the ER waiting to be admitted, notwithstanding their attempts to divert patients.”
Hill also said that millions of dollars in revenue were still not being billed. One doctor alone “billed $1,600,000 in 2012. Because of SUNY’s contract with Continuum, they collected only $200,000.”
SUNY issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying, "The Board of Trustees today took the difficult but necessary step of supporting the decision to close Long Island College Hospital. This is the latest of many actions needed to stabilize the finances of Downstate Medical Center and preserve its 8,000 jobs and Brooklyn's only medical school.
"We commend Dr. John Williams and his team at Downstate Medical for their commitment to preserving and ultimately strengthening this hidden jewel of the SUNY system, which is so critical to educating our doctors and other medical professionals, and treating Brooklyn's residents,” SUNY said.
Trudy Wassener, a frequent patient at LICH who traveled to Purchase, told the Brooklyn Eagle after the decision, “It was a fait accompli. Nobody there heard what we had to say. It’s sad that people who run schools are making decisions about health care in our neighborhood. All these upstate people had our lives in their hands, but nobody there cared about the health of people in Brooklyn.”
Tomorrow caregivers and patients will be holding a candlelight vigil in front of LICH at 7 p.m., supporters told the Eagle.
“LICH is open for care – and our fight to keep it open is just beginning,” said Jill Furillo, RN, Executive Director of the New York State Nurses Association in a statement. “NYSNA nurses will do whatever it takes to save our hospital. Every day we keep LICH open, we save lives.”
“This vote shows once again that SUNY is determined to close LICH despite the disastrous impact it will have on patients, working families and the local economy,” said George Gresham, President of 1199SEIU. He said the union would work with advocates and elected officials “to find alternative solutions . . . Because LICH is in a thriving neighborhood and is highly utilized by local residents, we believe that this vital hospital could remain open with the right planning, management and vision.”