Brooklyn hospitals remain in limbo

After nearly a year of legal battles, Brooklyn residents are still unsure about the fate of Long Island College Hospital (LICH). State University of New York (SUNY) officials, who claim to be losing $13 million a month by keeping LICH operating, have been attempting to scale down and sell off the Cobble Hill hospital since early 2013.

State Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes ruled on Tuesday to adjourn a much anticipated hearing that would determine whether SUNY acted in contempt of court by putting some staff members on temporary leave. The hearing will resume Thursday, February 20, at 360 Adams Street.

The delay provides extra time for the two sides to reach an agreement on the hospital’s future. But representatives of anti-closure community groups are eager to push forward with the hearing.

“What [we] want is justice,” prosecuting attorney Jim Walden told Justice Baynes in court on Tuesday. “We want our day in court.”

Despite a July 16th ruling ordering the state to maintain the hospital’s level of operation, SUNY has placed 650 employees on administrative leave, reduced emergency care, and diverted ambulances to other hospitals.

The state has also solicited purchasing bids from four developers, which community groups claim is in direct opposition to Justice Baynes’ order to refrain from “any action in furtherance of closure.” All four bids seek to reduce the hospital’s services and use the property for residential or commercial purposes. LICH occupies attractive real estate in Brownstone Brooklyn.

LICH

LICH occupies valuable Brownstone Brooklyn property | LIR Photo Credit: Dan Sanchez

SUNY and the community groups came close to an agreement around 3:40 AM on Sunday, according to Walden, but a settlement fell apart at the last second. The two sides will have 48 hours to resume talks before the hearing begins on Thursday.

A long year

Last February, on the snowy steps of the State Supreme Court,  Susan Raboy told reporters how the staff at LICH helped her survive her battle with sepsis, a potentially fatal blood infection.

“In August 2011, LICH saved my life,” she said. Soon after, she and others formed Patients for LICH, one of the advocacy groups that filled the courtroom in anticipation on Tuesday.

“Justice was not served today,” Raboy said of the hearing’s adjournment. “But I’m so proud of how many community members and patients were in court to fight to save LICH.”

The postponement was the latest in a series of setbacks for supporters, but they remain determined.

“We will not stop fighting until LICH returns as a full service hospital,” Raboy said. “Nothing less will do.”

Help on the way for some

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced last Thursday that the federal Department of Health and Human Services has approved an $8 billion “Medicaid waiver” for the state of New York. While the waiver will primarily serve to strengthen the state’s primary care and outpatient programs, part of the sum will be used to prop up struggling Brooklyn hospitals.

Even if Brooklyn’s struggling hospitals survive, they will have to reduce emergency and in-patient services | Photo by: Dan Sanchez

Brooklyn hospitals like Interfaith Medical Center (above) may have to cut emergency services to survive.  | LIR Photo credit: Dan Sanchez

“Over the last several months we have worked with dedicated leaders in New York on a waiver agreement that represents a significant commitment to improve care delivery,” said Emma Sandoe, a representative of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Brookdale Hospital, Interfaith Medical Center, and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center are the three hospitals most likely to receive funds from the waiver. Due to its uncertain legal status and impending sale, LICH is not expected to be impacted by the waiver.