By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Saying there has been no financial transparency in the rush to close a vital Brooklyn resource, Downtown Brooklyn political leaders and staff of Long Island College Hospital are calling for a postponement of a vote scheduled for Thursday that is expected to doom the financially troubled hospital.
LICH supporters said they would hold a rally before SUNY’s board of trustees meets at 3 pm at the SUNY School of Optometry, 33 W. 42nd St. in Manhattan. The action begins at 1 p.m. when SUNY's Academic Medical Centers/Hospital Committee, meeting behind closed doors, hears SUNY Downstate Medical Center President Dr. John Williams' recommendation that LICH be closed.
SUNY trustees will hold an open meeting between 3 and 5 p.m. during which members of the public, who sign up before 2:30 p.m., will be allowed to speak. Afterwards, the SUNY board's executive committee, meeting in private, is expected to vote to close LICH.
The full board is scheduled to meet, also behind closed doors, early Friday, at which time they are expected to affirm the executive committee's death sentence.
SUNY Downstate spokesman Robert Bellafiore confirmed on Wednesday that Williams planned to recommend closing LICH in order to save Downstate.
If approved, SUNY would submit a closing plan — a process for ramping down services at LICH — to the state Health Department, Bellafiore told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“It could take from several weeks to several months for the Health Department to review the plan,” he said. 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.
The fate of LICH’s multi-million dollar real estate “is not part of the conversation right now,” he said.
Dave Bates, a spokesperson for Health Care Workers Union 1199SEIU, said members are urging SUNY Chairman Carl McCall and the board of trustees to postpone the vote. “Any vote is premature and irresponsible at this point,” he told the Eagle.
“LICH serves over 100,000 patients a year, employs over 2,000 people, and supports local businesses,” he said, adding the hospital “provides many medical services that are unique to the area. A closure would eliminate emergency services and other vital care for local residents and cause severe overcrowding of other facilities.”
Roughly 57,000 people were treated in LICH’s emergency room last year, a LICH nurse reported.
Herdley Hill, an RN in LICH’s Department of Psychiatry for 13 years and previously an accountant, said the vote to close the hospital should be postponed until the hospital books are opened.
“We need to have transparency and have all concerns and issues discussed before a rash decision is made," he said. "It seems they are in a hurry, but once the damage is done, it’s hard to undo.”
Hill pointed to SUNY’s lack of a business model, Continuum’s continuing operational incompetence, and LICH’s inability to bill for many services as responsible in large part for LICH’s financial mess today.
LICH was abandoned by Continuum Health Partners — another “merger” that proved catastrophic for LICH — in 2011.
Since SUNY took over, “There was no investment in this place. The 2011 government [Brooklyn Work Group] report said LICH did not have a business model, and there has been no attempt to change the structure,” Hill said.
“Some expenses were avoidable, if only someone had put some thought into it,” Hill said. “For example, some services are still being managed and paid for at Continuum. Our IT system is being managed by Continuum. Continuum also does our billing – but they have no incentive to go out and collect money. The receivables are late by a startlingly high number of days – far outside the bell curve for the industry.”
Continuum is “not billing for certain implants” such as artificial hips, he added. “People had the procedure done, but they were not billed for it. This is a lot of money.”
Hill pointed to several other areas where LICH cannot collect money because SUNY never did the necessary paperwork. In one example, physicians were never put on a panel so that insurance companies would recognize them when the bills go out.
In yet another example, LICH is unable to collect for all kinds of medical procedures because SUNY never updated the billing program’s “Charge Description Master.” And a huge amount of money was never collected from a large percentage of non-emergency ER room cases. “There was no billing for six months over the last year,” he said. “Even if it’s only 10 patients a day, that’s a lot of money you’re losing over a year.”
“The books have never been opened. There needs to be transparency,” he said.
Bellafiore said that Dr. Williams, who took office six months ago, “did not inherit a healthy operation at LICH.
“Nobody denies there was mismanagement – that’s why changes were made. Dr. Williams was brought in to turn this around. But LICH could threaten SUNY Downstate and its 8,000 jobs. Dr. Williams feels there isn’t any other case to make. Closing LICH is a highly emotional thing,” Bellafiore said. “You would expect people to have compelling stories and think things are pre-decided. But SUNY took over the hospital with the best of intentions. There was also a bit of a perfect storm with the recession, cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, and the fact that people in the community don’t use the hospital.
“If it continues to hemorrhage money, SUNY could be brought down. Sometimes you have to make a sacrifice to save the larger organization.”